By Dave Minkus
Dave’s Score: 8.5/10
Crips and Bloods: Made in America is truly a unique film. Generally, when we see a documentary about a certain time in American history, most of the facts are found in writings. With this film, the history is recent enough that it’s possible to see exactly when these two legendary gangs came into being and the reasons for it. The film goes back as far as World War II for the full story, but this film is a fascinating look into where American society went horribly wrong and why we’re all responsible for the predicament we find ourselves in when it comes to gang violence.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qN4pP-1NWoA[/youtube]
As stated above, the film begins during World War II, when Black America had an unprecedented opportunity that had NEVER been possible before then. With so many able-bodied men at war, manufacturing companies turned to Black America in order to keep the American war machine going. Most of these plants were build in Los Angeles. Don’t get me wrong, African Americans were still treated as second class citizens and essentially kept to only living in one part of town, but they were able to buy homes and have at least a working-class life. After the war, manufacturing died and began the first of many instances of America no taking care of (and being downright scared of) a segment of the population. I won’t ruin the rest because it’s such a fascinating story, but it MUST be seen.
Getting myself to watch this film was difficult. In full disclosure, I spent a number of my formative years living in the San Fernando Valley. I’m not talking about the version you see now, where obscene home prices have prompted homeowners to take care of their houses. I lived in the valley during the end of the 70’s and the entirety of the 80’s. I’m not going to talk about how tough life was in school, because my parents made huge sacrifices to send me to private school. What I can tell you about, though, is what I DID experience. I would drive by the junior high I would have gone to if not for my parents and saw police cars in the parking lot on a daily basis with ambulances a couple times a week. There were three gang territories that met within two blocks of my house. My parents literally couldn’t sleep for the first two weeks when we moved to Colorado because it was too quiet. There weren’t helicopters and shotgun blasts every night, and it took awhile to get used to. You couldn’t go 15 feet without seeing graffiti on some surface and my church actually had a meeting with gang leaders to get them not to try to recruit us as we walked to Sunday youth group services. Don’t cry for me, Argentina. I’m not looking for sympathy, I just want to give you my mindset before getting into the review.
One last thing that might be important to my mindset going into this is my racial history. My grandfather was one of the most racist mofos you’d ever meet. He had a black gentleman help him get his car started right before the Watts riots broke out so he could leave because “some bad stuff is about to go down”, but he was a hateful guy until the Alzheimer’s kicked in. Between seeing that and my parents’ determination that I would NOT grow up like that, I’ve always seen and treated all people as just people. I firmly believe in personal responsibility and that anyone can bring themselves up if they’re determined to do so. I’ve also believed that gang members are in a gang because they want to be and don’t want to get out of that lifestyle. This film gave me a MUCH needed reality check.
What makes this film compelling is the current and former gang members who consented to be in this film. As is the case with many things in life, when you put a face to an issue, you tend to change your position on an issue, no matter how insignificantly. Talking with current and former gang members puts the entire history of these gangs on full display, down to the socio-economic reasons that these gangs HAD to be formed. It turns out that it’s very logical that this is the outcome of putting so many fathers in a certain neighborhood into jail and forcing single-mother families. If don’t have a father figure to tell you how to be a man and you’ve got a group of guys telling you how great you are, of course you’d listen to them! While I still think there needs to be personal responsibility in a person’s life, this film shows that you can only get beat down socially so much before you turn away from the societal norm altogether. Honestly, my heart absolutely broke when you see a man tell you that he WANTS to go straight. He WANTS to work a legit job, but the fact that he’s spent some time in prison means that nobody will give him a second look and so he does what he has to in order to provide for his family. The men in this film aren’t looking pity or sympathy. They just want people to understand what their life is.
It seems like every year, I find a documentary that’s off the beaten path and declare that it should be up for an Oscar. Crips and Bloods: Made in America is that film for me more than any other film. You wan’t to talk about the sham that is the American system of justice? You want to talk about the socially downtrodden? You don’t have to go to Michael Moore or go to Africa to find these things. You just have to go to a small part of downtown Los Angeles. Here’s the thing, though. This movie won’t get the recognition it deserves because we, as a society, had a HUGE part to play in the creation of this particular problem. I would applaud the Academy if they were to recognize this fantastic film, but we all know that won’t happen. It’s a film that looks at something ugly here at home that people have to deal with daily here at home in the USA. It isn’t the kind of film that lets you look at atrocities in another country, lets you feel good about caring and lets you get back to life. If anything, this movie shows that a war on gangs probably isn’t the answer. If we were to put half the resources we do into private foreign goodwill ventures in our own backyard, L.A. would be a different place.
Note: The film is available on Netflix on both DVD and Watch It Now, or you can order the DVD at the official site.