Tupac Shakur Biopic ‘All Eyez on Me’ spotlights Baltimore’s School for the Arts

Tupac Shakur’s biopic, All Eyez on Me, was released nationwide on June 16, 2017. The movie tells the compelling story of the legendary Hip Hop personality, who was tragically gunned down in 1996 at the age 25, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

For a brief period, the rapper Tupac lived in Baltimore, from 1984-88, before moving to Oakland, CA. He attended the Baltimore School for the Arts, (BSA), during some of that time period, but never graduated. Its theatre is named in his honor.

Tupac’s Theatre

Another famous alumna, the actress Jada Pinkett-Smith, was in his class. She is capably portrayed in the movie by Kat Graham. Smith is also a huge benefactor of the BSA, recently giving a gift of $1 million. She is married to Will Smith, also a celebrated actor, who is a native of Philadelphia.

The BSA is spotlighted in the flick, which has received mixed critical reviews. Check out the varying opinions on the movie.

Personally, I liked the movie a lot, especially the great job the lead actor Demetrius Shipp Jr. did taking on the evolving dynamic persona of Tupac. However, I’m in the minority on this one.

To be fair, the movie is a little choppy here and there. That might be because it had three writers!

Jada Pinkett-Smith didn’t care for how the movie writers described her “special” platonic relationship with Tupac, (“NY Post,” 06.17.17.) She said: “Forgive me … my relationship to ‘Pac’ is too precious to me for the scenes in ‘All Eyez on Me’ to stand as truth.”

The feisty Smith made it clear, however, not to place any blame on Graham, who played her in the movie, or Shipp, who portrayed Tupac. Smith continued: “This is no fault of yours,” she wrote. Thank you (to both actors) for bringing so much heart and spirit to your roles. You both did a beautiful job with what you were given. Thank you both.”

All Eyez on Me producer, L.T. Hutton, struck back quickly. He said: “I was disappointed” and “hurt” by Smith’s words … my movie was rooted in “the truth,” even if some scenes were dramatized to further tell the story from Tupac’s perspective. I respect the hell out of Ms. Smith,” he told TMZ. “… I was very responsible with everyone.”

Smith told shock/jock Howard Stern, “If Pac and I had any kind of sexual chemistry, we might have killed each other because we were both so passionate. And you know, we loved deeply. It was hard enough with us just being friends. It was a volatile relationship.”

Getting back to the BSA. It’s located at Cathedral and Madison Streets, near historic Mt. Vernon Place, in Baltimore. It is a highly regarded high school for aspiring young artists, musicians, actors and dancers, etc.

Baltimore School for the Arts

Two of my stepdaughters, Monica Favand Campagna (Dance) and Renee Favand-See (Music), graduated from the BSA. They were contemporaries of both Tupac and Smith, and have fond memories of the school and their fellow students.

  • Once I went to a fund-raising event at the BSA and who do you think I was seated next to? Try the Baltimore Colts’ immortal John Unitas!
Johnny Unitas

The BSA’s building has an interesting history of its own. Originally, it was a hotel, (1924), owned by the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic fraternal male organization. It was then known as the “Alcazar.” It was built in the Italian Renaissance style.

The Alcazar also had a swimming pool and half of a basketball court. Today, it still has its swimming pool. When I was going to Calvert Hall High School at Cathedral & Mulberry Streets, (1951-55), I recall the half court was used by our JV basketball team as a practice facility.

In its halcyon days, the Alcazar was mostly used by the social set for cotillions, parties and wedding receptions. It ended up having only one resident — a lawyer, who had an office in the Equitable Building.

In 1979, the City of Baltimore bought the property, which by then was way past its glory days. The City then skillfully transformed it into the BSA.

It’s fair to say that this was a brilliant move on behalf of the then-Mayor, William Donald Schaefer. It might just be one of his crowning achievements. I was working in City Hall at the time as chief of the Litigation Division in the City Solicitor’s Office.

Mayor William Donald Schaefer

Now, I know a lot of folks helped to bring the BSA to fruition. Their names are just too numerous to mention here. They all deserved a lot of credit for their efforts.

But, there is one man’s name who played a major role in the BSA process, laboring dutifully, 24/7, in the background, who is rarely mentioned: Bernie Berkowitz! He served for many years in City Hall as a very capable aide and as a right-hand man to Mayor Schaefer himself (Trust me, no easy job under the best of circumstances.)

Finally, three cheers for the BSA, its students, alumni, administrators and its munificent benefactors, such as Jada Pinkett-Smith. My hat goes off to all of them and also to the BSA’s unsung hero — Bernie Berkowtiz!

Photos by Bill Hughes except top photo which is a screen shot from the movie’s trailer