Crips and the Bloods: Made in America (2008) dir. Stacey Peralta
With the rise of gangsta rap in the 1990’s, the two rivals gangs of L.A., the Crips and the Bloods became household names to suburban teenagers like me even though I lived thousands of kilmeters away. Like the outlaws of the old West or the depression-era gangsters of Chicago, the Crips and the Bloods were the outlaws for the hip-hop generation, the stuff of legend which music and movies aggrandized to make money.
Director Stacey Peralta, once a worldclass skateboarding entrepreneur, turned into a legitimate filmmaker with his definitive skating doc, “Dogtown and Z-Boys”. He proved it was no fluke with his equally impressive, surfing flick “Riding Giants”. With “Crips and the Bloods”, Peralta's stepped outside his sports theme to bring the story of the Crips and the Bloods to the screen, and now DVD.
Like his previous efforts, Peralta manages to make still images feel like three-dimensional live action, and boring old archival footage is edited with a fresh rhythm and pace. Editor T.J. Mahar's work is phenomenal conveying both information and emotion from traditional stock footage, stills and a few cool graphics.
Before he gets to the gangs, Peralta takes his time setting the scene and offers us a detailed history of race relations in Los Angeles. From WWII to the mid-70’s, Peralta and his co-writer Sam George compile all the ingredients and variables which led to rise of the gang culture. It’s no surprise it’s the ingrained racism of the authority figures of the city which consciously created racial segregation. Elder black leaders discuss at length the abuse and belligerence they received day in and day out from the LAPD, a simmering pot of anger which boiled over during the 1965 Watt’s riots.
It isn’t until 20mins in do we learn of the formation of the Crips and the Bloods. But while the context and backstory is impeccably researched and documented curiously we're never given a proper segue to the gangs. We’re told of the general optimism of the late 60’s, early 70’s black power era, and a general decrease in crime, and so when the two gangs are brought into the fold, the switch to violent cynicism is never adequately explained.
And there’s actually very little information about the two gangs. A brief 8mins sequence discusses the territories of the gangs and we meet a few generations of gang members, but little else. Other than the territory war how did two gangs manage to be at war for 25 years, kill a reported 15,000 people and become a nationally known piece of pop culture lore? This question is never explored.
So the film’s title turns out to be a misnomer. Instead it’s about the general effects of gang violence, the mothers and family members who suffer from this extreme form of macho bravado. Ultimately and rightly so, blame is put on the absentee fathers, in some areas of the city 70% of whom are not part of their children’s lives. As a result, those who become gang bangers fill the void of the fathers with the comfort of the gang.
While the film is a clearly a passionate call for action for greater community responsibility and social cohesion, for good and bad the film never really gets at the heeart of the mythology behind these two gangs - the reason I know about them in the first place and the reason I saw the film.
"Crips and the Bloods" is available on DVD from Docurama Films.