In the 1980s and into the first half of the 1990s, gang violence in American urban centers grabbed nightly news headlines with a distant sensationalism that appears almost quaint in the era of the 24-hour news cycle. Perhaps because threats emerging beyond the borders of the United States appear more prevalent or maybe because superficial aspects of the thug life entered the pop culture vernacular, gang warfare in cities such as Los Angeles has bled into the background of media chatter in the last fifteen years.
Crips and Bloods: Made in America reintroduces the conversation into the mainstream. Director Stacy Peralta enlists commentary of historians, activists and – most engagingly – gang members themselves to extract the story from the noise of the years since American urban desperation disintegrated into the L.A. riots of 1992.
Yet, the here and now of the Crips and the Bloods remain obscured even as the conversation (compassionately led by narrator Forest Whitaker) establishes a fascinating context in which gangs emerged. Peralta relates a captivating argument: the unavailability of organized, institutional camaraderie for young, African-American men in post-WWII South Central Los Angeles necessitated an almost organic self-creation of fraternal associations.
From these neighborhood groups, the modern gangs represented most prominently in the Crips and the Bloods, originated after a vacuum of leadership followed the Civil Rights movement. The chronology the film explores is straightforward but compelling. It has immediate resonance with the present as the inequalities of the last century still remain, though under various guises.
Somehow, though, the true story of the Crips and the Bloods is never well-defined. Though former members offer startling, emotional commentary and those who have lost loved ones to gang violence appear to authentic, dramatic effect, the specific and real story indicated in the documentary’s title remains concealed.
Crips and Bloods: Made in America never quite bridges the segments of historical origins with the chapters lived by many interviewees. The discussion is absolutely worthy and any viewer may presume that the gangs of American cities will not remain off front pages forever. In this examination, however, only components fully capture a resonance, for an unabridged study of the Crips and the Bloods has not been fully developed.
© Doug Johnson
Crips and Bloods: Made in America (2008). Director: Stacy Peralta. Screenplay: Stacy Peralta and Sam George. Narration: Forest Whitaker.