Early in The Defiant Ones, Allen Hughes’ panoramic four-part documentary about Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine premiering Sunday on HBO, there’s a clear sign that this won’t be a puff piece about two of the music industry’s most powerful titans.
The film opens with a business deal that when finalized will make Dre and Iovine very rich men: Apple has agreed to purchase their company Beats for a cool $3.2 billion, though due diligence requires holding off on an official announcement. Then, disaster strikes: news of the deal leaks online via an ill-timed Facebook post. Suddenly, the payday is in jeopardy, and Hughes’ cameras are there to capture all of it.
Without spoiling what happens next, let’s just say that Hughes doesn’t shy away from exposing other potentially embarrassing pieces of information about Dre and Iovine in the intervening four hours of The Defiant Ones — the divorces, the arrests, the commercial flops, Dre’s infamous assault of TV personality Dee Barnes in 1991. All of it is addressed with uncommon candidness.
But Hughes’ warts-and-all approach ultimately is in service of an admiring portrait of two men who came from inauspicious backgrounds to build separate empires, and then partnered together in the ’90s to become even richer and more powerful. Along the way, Dre and Iovine manage to intersect with many of the most notable figures from the last 40 years of music: Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Bono, Snoop Dogg, Tom Petty, Ice Cube, Stevie Nicks, and David Geffen represent just part of The Defiant Ones’ impressive cast.
For Hughes, who is best known for directing the iconic ’90s films Menace II Society and Dead Presidents with his brother, Albert, The Defiant Ones was an all-consuming project that took several years, and nearly all of his inner strength, to complete.
“It was absolutely 100 percent difficult to maintain a filmmaker’s control over this thing,” Hughes says. “Those guys are artists themselves, and they’re the greatest champion of artists. So there was never a problem in that area at all. The difficulty was they are who they are. And they’re still in action. It’s not like they’re retired or dead.”
One of the stories you tell in this film is, in a way, about the death of the music industry. The first three parts are about all of the great things these moguls did in music, and the fourth part is about them transitioning out of music and selling headphones via Beats By Dre. And that made me sad. It’s a testimony to the business acumen of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, that they could make that pivot, but the larger story feels tragic to me. Did you sense the movie going in that direction when you were making it?