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With: Forest Whitaker (narrator), Todd Boyd, Jim Brown
Written by: Stacy Peralta, Sam George
Directed by: Stacy Peralta
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 88
Date: 01/20/2008

Crips and Bloods: Made in America (2009)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The former skateboarder and director of the intriguing documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001), Stacy Peralta, returns with this surprisingly powerful, moving new documentary. Like Roger Corman spending time with the Hell's Angels in the 1960s, Peralta has descended into the most dangerous neighborhoods of Los Angeles to interview various gang members. Though most outsiders have a tendency to believe that these gangsters are responsible for their own dark fates, Peralta outlines a history of black America over the past century, pinpointing just how certain simple agendas trapped them in certain neighborhoods and began breeding anger, hatred and violence. (The film's subtitle is crucial here.) Blacks were given factory jobs during and after World War II, but when the factories closed, the jobs disappeared, leading to poverty and neighborhoods full of crumbling storefronts. Real estate lines were drawn to keep certain neighborhoods white, so that even black families that could afford them were turned away. One man describes his effort to join the Boy Scouts, and being turned away because the white parents would be made uncomfortable. So gangs sprung up, first using fist-fights to establish territories, then moving on to guns. To date, some members of these communities have never once left their five-block radius.

Peralta also outlines how the cycle is allowed to continue; young black men have no other recourse but to join gangs. When they are killed and/or sent to jail, their own children are raised with no father figure. They then have no choice but to join a gang. Upon release from jail, former gang members are unable to get straight jobs; they must return to drugs and murder. And on it goes. Peralta mainly uses talking heads and photos and a stirring selection of songs (both gangster rap and more electronic tunes), but his interviewees are clearly moved by the chance to speak out -- at last. (At first I questioned the idea of a white filmmaker doing this story, but Peralta seems to understand and use his status as an outsider to get the particular type of material he wanted.) Perhaps not surprisingly, he interviews members of both sets, and identifies them as either "Crips" or "Bloods," but the men all have the exact same things to say. Perhaps the most powerful story of all is the one about the grandmother, though I'll say no more. Don't miss this. It opens today at the Roxie Cinema.

DVD Details: Docurama Films released this powerful film on DVD in May of 2009, with both 2.0 and 5.1 audio mixes (but no optional subtitles). Extras include a 4-minute interview with Snoop Dogg, and a 3-minute interview with Lil Wayne. There's a half-hour making-of featurette, and 30 minutes of deleted scenes, including footage about the rise of gangsta rap. (The omission of this from the film annoyed some critics.)

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