The life story of Michel’le Toussaint, who’s better known by the lone name of Michel’le, is the subject of the new Lifetime movie, “Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge & Me.” It offers a look at both her musical career and volatile personal life.
There are scenes alleging domestic abuse, showing Michel’le being beaten and threatened by both Dr. Dre and Suge Knight.
Michel’le says she could have left out the brutal part of her life and made her musical rise a Cinderella story of rags to riches. But that would have passed over the major point she wanted to make with the movie.
“I want to get across that people should not do what I did,” Michel’le says. “I was trying to get across what made me the way I am. Why I made those decision is a message about abuse and addiction.”
The film starts with the discovery of the singer at a young age by Eazy E, which turned her into a platinum-selling artist on Ruthless Records. Her Billboard hits include “No More Lies” and “Something In My Heart.” The first lady of West Coast rap was Dr. Dre’s girlfriend for nearly a decade and later romantically involved with Suge Knight.
Michel’le had no musical training while growing up because her family couldn’t afford to pay for lessons. Her first time in front of a crowd was singing in church. She was discovered while singing at work in a department store.
Rhyon Nicole Brown stars as Michel’le, newcomer Curtis Hamilton portrays Dr. Dre and R. Marcos Taylor reprises his role as Suge Knight, which he originated in last year’s feature film “Straight Outta Compton.” Michel’le narrates the production.
The first time Michel’le saw the film, she had to leave at the midway point because it was too hard to watch. The toughest parts are the scenes where she’s beaten to the point she has to be taken to the hospital.
The scenes are tough for her to watch, but Michel’le would not have the story told any other way.
“It had to be brutal. There are all these mental scars and it is no different than if they had molested me,” Michel’le says. “Why sugarcoat it? I would be lying to myself. It was best to be what it is.”
Dr. Dre doesn’t agree. TMZ is reporting that his legal team has sent a letter to Sony Pictures threatening a lawsuit should they release the movie. For now, the film is still on the Lifetime schedule.
The film also shows how Michel’le’s home life was reflected in her music.
“Listen to every song that I wrote. I didn’t know what love was. No more lies. Everything I was writing was a subconscious crying out for help,” Michel’le says.
She found a few answers when her daughter was born. The birth of the child was a pivotal point in her life and now she is happy with the person she’s become. The only bad part about working as the narrator for the movie was being away from home for seven weeks.
Along with the film, Michel’le was one of six members on the TV One reality show R&B Divas: Los Angeles between 2013-15. At the same time she was touring, including a show at Fresno’s Bottoms Up Nightclub.
Michel’le says she has lived a life of major highs and lows.
“Life is Disneyland. It’s an illusion,” she says. “You have to make the day what you want it to be.”
Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge & Me
- 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, Lifetime