Film Reviews


By • Mar 1st, 2009 •

Share This:

Los Angeles has been written about and filmed as the land in which dreams come true.

The masses have migrated for the open space, clean living, and the promise of a brighter tomorrow. It is where Mickey Mouse founded his home. Nestled in this area bustling to the brim with tycoons and starlets, expensive shops, and beaches with beautiful lifeguards is a war zone. It’s called South Central LA.

Stacy Peralta’s latest documentary is never boring and moves fluidly, much like his former days as a champion skateboarder. His previous film, RIDING GIANS, dealt with surfing, and was released in 2004. The film for which he won the Audience Award and Directing Award in the documentary category at Sundance, DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS (2001), chronicled the 1970s Zephyr skating team. Now he tackles the subject of American gangs, the ‘crips’ and the ‘bloods,’ born and bred here.

When Michael Moore stood at a corner in South Central in BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE to conduct an interview, he attempted to prove his point that the American media sensationalizes the threat of America’s black youth and the dangers of South Central by not getting shot during mid-day. Stacy Peralta goes deep into the area with those that live it and prove that this indeed is a breeding ground of turmoil and a place where babies are borne unto gang colors.

Watching television back in 1992, the LA riots raged on as the city burned. I watched as a white truck driver was dragged from the cab and beaten with a brick by black men. The news repeatedly played this video, and the footage of a black man beaten by a group of white Los Angeles police officers. Was this the media sensationalizing the LA riots?

Stacey Peralta searches for who and what created the gangs. Many issues are muddled and there may not be a defining truth that is black and white, although the creation of these two LA gangs is clearly a black and white race issue. Testimony is given in the film as to the Boy Scouts of America in LA having no place for black children. Black kids could not belong to anything that white America ruled in a prejudicial manner. Black groups were created that gave kids an identity, a feeling of belonging and a way to have fun together. Call to mind the events depicted in AMERICAN GRAFFITI as kids cruise around, joyriding on a weekend night. Even though AMERICAN GRAFFITI is set in Modesto, 300 miles north of Los Angeles, there are no main black characters. Had the setting been Los Angeles, there still would have been no black characters. The reason is found in Peralta’s film through a geography lesson of a city in which there were no bathrooms or water drinking-fountains for “colored,” but there were contractual clauses in building and land development. An imaginary line separated the whites from the blacks in Los Angeles. The imaginary line is Alameda Avenue. The policy was: The whites don’t venture west and the blacks don’t venture east. And when the black kids did nothing more than what the white kids did, the LAPD’s policy was to stop black motorists and beat them.

The circumstances surrounding one of these typical traffic stops are documented in a segment with photos, archival footage, animation, and eyewitness accounts of what became known as the Watts Riot. The riot begins on August 11, 1965, as a California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer pulls over Marquette Frye. Marquette, failing a sobriety test, is detained and the officer does not allow Frye’s brother Ronald to drive the car home. The vindictive police officer eventually arrests both brothers and their mother. The mob is violent and the boiling point is reached.

Onscreen, the recollections and reasoning are spoken with gruffness, and with some, hostility that has yet to subside. One person explains that this was not a riot because they knew what they were doing. With the National Guard’s involvement, it did take six days for the riots to die. Kumasi, a vocal and telling soul in the film, explains that his generation was not going to lie down like their parents had. He sums up the daily dietary intake that nourished their bodies and souls as a, “a spoonful of hate.” None of the interviewees are in search of atonement. Not a single person in this film apologizes for what they have done or had been a part of. They adhere to the stance that they did not create this problem. Peralta’s film upholds their argument.

We learn of a people migrating far from their southern roots. The black masses worked in Los Angeles and populated the areas that were designated in the racial city planning. According to those in the film, various groups and car clubs from different areas such as Slauson Park and Compton had sprung up. Coupled with a constant barrage of disparaging remarks and violent acts perpetrated by the LAPD, and by the onset of poverty, these were the problems that germinated the seeds of gang creation. The car clubs and such made way for gangs, and eventually the gangs feuded with one another. Gang activity eventually became an assault on society.

When the economy failed and employment ceased, dilapidated housing and failed educational systems followed. This vortex of lives with meager means incubated a failed society for decades which is inked in red and blue on a city grid to determine what gang rules where.

Pictures of those speaking in the film in their days of gang banging provide the necessary images to demonstrate that this is a way of life. We learn that children are actually fathered into gangs. Just as union workers got their children their own union cards, fathers bring their children into a lifestyle with colors and signs. The baby blues and pinks are replaced by bandana blue and bandana red. In this area, a young boy doesn’t show off his new Ipod or shiny new bike. What he does is set off a few rounds of his new gun and saunter down the block strutting his status.

Through childhood photos, Peralta attempts to humanize the gang members. It would be pointless to see the groups that he is trying to help as monsters or murderers. The babies are innocent to the circumstances around them and beam with happiness in the photos. These are the human beings soon to be faced with the problems of youth in South Central that their fathers faced and, as this vicious cycle continues, the same problems they will spawn for future generations.

Gang members die and non-gang members die. In a strictly propagandist move, the director has individual women stare into the camera shedding tears for the men, the boys, the family, that they have lost due to gang violence. If these images can’t move you, you are emotionally dead. The names of the deceased ring loudly in our heads as the screen projects the gore that has become the fate for an estimated 15,000. These staggering numbers even surpass some international wars.

The film does not put into perspective the scope of the crips’ and bloods’ standing in the league of world gangs. Perhaps Peralta should have done so to scare the powers that be to actually attempt to correct the problem. With such information, it was quite possible that he could have successfully shocked and awed influential persons into getting involved either through their own initiative or with the numerous organizations that take part in the film that are listed on its website ( The documentary points out that there was an economic pledge to help the city with an effort known as Rebuild LA after the riots. For unspecified reasons, the effort fell to the wayside.

This film provokes thought and concern. So I did some research and found additional pertinent information. Can gangs garner substantial power that should cause society to shudder with fear behind barred windows and locked doors? Gang warfare is seen on television as problems in third world nations. Numerous gangs exist in Central and South America. Look at the gang violence in City of God. The infamous PCC stems from Brazil. But how much power does this gang wield? The PCC carries enough weight to have actually shut São Paulo down. Can the crips and bloods rise to such ranks in America? Do we want them to?

Much like the rise of the Italian Mafia, the origins of these gangs stem from lack of protection and a need to organize and govern themselves from injustice. According to José Wilson Miranda, from a Brazilian publication, “The PCC started on August 31, 1993, in a prison of Taubaté, a city in the interior of São Paulo. Their main goals at the time were to “fight oppression” and avenge the death of 111 prisoners, who were massacred by the police on October 2, 1992, after a riot in the Carandiru penitentiary in São Paulo.”

The bloods and crips are not the only gangs in Los Angeles. Another gang that exists is the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) that has been cited as America’s most violent gang. Various news agencies have reported that the MS-13 originated to protect Salvadorian immigrants from other Mexican and African-American gangs.

While I was searching the Internet, I came across several Los Angeles gangs that have their own websites and blogs. Reaching out to alleviate the gang problem and help those in need is the point of the film. Appearing in the film is football great and actor Jim Brown. As a social activist, his organization Amer-I-Can reaches out to those in low economic, high crime areas. As easy as it is to contact one of these gangs online, it’s just as easy to contact Amer-I-Can.

There are no police commissioners, no officers, no LA officials that answer any charges.

I am sure it would have been interesting to hear their side. Is former LA Police Chief Daryl Gates, who tenured the 1992 LA riot, unavailable, or did he decline the invitation?

Did the production not choose to include such people? With a running time of 93 minutes, there would have been time to incorporate them.

Noticeably absent from the film are LA residents who came from the area and have made it in the entertainment industry. O’Shea Jackson, known as Ice Cube from N.W.A., expressed the situation with the LP Straight Outta Compton with songs entitled, “Fuck Tha Police”, “Gangsta Gangsta” and his solo effort “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”. Tracy Lauren Marrow, known as Ice-T, came to LA from Newark, NJ as a pre-teen and lived the street life as a jewel thief and a pimp before becoming a monumental influence in hip-hop. His song “Cop Killer” sums up his feelings. Both men have gone on to have successful film careers.

Peralta’s film is well shot, crafted, and researched. It is a film that takes a stand and could actually make a difference. I am sure it was tough harnessing the various directions and topics. Not all questions are answered. I still do not understand what the beating of the white truck driver during the ’92 LA riot has to do with the police beating of the black motorist? What does looting have to do with being angry and fighting for your rights? With an economic depression possibly greater than the one of the 1920’s looming and with our nation’s first African-American President in office, just how will this shape the future of the plight of the South Central black male?

Tagged as:
Share This Article: Digg it | | Google | StumbleUpon | Technorati

2 Responses »

  1. This is not just another gang movie. It’s very well presented, draws the viewer in and provokes thought.

  2. I myself havent seen the movie just a trailer but being an ex O.G.Blood can relate to the everyday lifestyle of a gangbanger. Im from the east coast but we have just as many sets,turf wars,rivalries and violence as L.A. I ordered this film last night after i read about it and saw the trailer and i cant wait to get it. Im a huge fan of peralta so I know I wont be dissapointed. We have to do something now to stop this non-sence and i thank GOD for my son and opening my eyes to the road i was headed down.I did 2 stints in prison 1 for drug trafficing and one for exstortion so i dont have another chance. Thank you stacy for exposing the like that upper class america turns their nose up at,maybe this will make a difference.

    thanks,rab da gobblin…Charleston SC.

Leave a Comment

(Comments are moderated and will be approved at FIR's discretion, please allow time to be displayed)