Did We Really Need Stacy Peralta’s Look at the Bloods and the Crips?

I’m torn. I mean, I’m really on the fence about this PBS special. It aired May 12th on the station’s Independent Lens series and I watched the whole thing. From Terrence Howards’ intro right on through to the credits. And as a Black man I’m torn. On the one hand I guess I feel like “the message” can’t be gotten out there enough. But as a person who has seen a LOT of movies (including many, many documentaries like this) and who has seen a lot of PBS in general, this film had an eerily “familiar” look and feel to it. So much so that it ALMOST seemed like a parody. I almost expected to hear a raspy voiced narrator saying “It was the best of times, it was the worst of time…” with Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” playing in the background.

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Bloods and Crips: Made in America. Whew, I mean, that’s like a conversation from 15 years ago right? Or twenty-FIVE years ago if you wanna talk crack in it’s hey day. So what compelled Stacy to drag all this out like it’s something new? For those of you (probably most) who don’t know Peralta is a a film director, but really he’s a skateboard guy. I’m a 41 year old guy and I first heard his name from precisely 26 years ago as I ventured outside of Chicago’s version of Los Angeles’ South Central (called the South Side) and made my way into the “white part of town” and discovered punk rock and skateboarding. And for those of you who don’t know Chicago is the home of the 2 other largest waring Black gangs; the Disciples and the El Rukins.

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Peralta is “old school” having been a part of that original crew of Dogtown skaters in the 70’s (for this history lesson we’re gonna skip over the 60’s “sidewalk surfin’” era). Eventually he began to skate a little less and video tape younger skaters more and more. And voila; film director. So he’s no stranger to documenting LA based, sub cultures. And by him being an LA native who has lived so adjacent to one of the most largest Black communities in the America (a community that has affected so much of the PLANET via violence, style, music and attitude) I can understand him being compelled to FINALLY saying to himself, “Man, I really ought to see what’s going on in my own back yard. I’ve already got the cameras…” But isn’t everybody who watches PBS gonna be up to speed on this issue? I mean I don’t think any FOX News viewers will ever see/care about this film.

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But with this film I see a lot of “hack” standards (from a film making point of view) and in terms of ground covered I see a lot of stereotypical elements re-hased (as a guy with a degree in Anthropology, point of view). All the favorites are there.

The soundtrack ripped straight from about 3 shows on KCRW’s night time line up

The look back at the 60’s Civil Rights movement as the “start” part of cycle

Dragging out 60’s Lefty Tom Hayden

The footage of Black kids with gang paraphernalia and guns

The photos of dead bodies

The footage of (primarily White) cops abusing Black people of all ages and sexes

The former gang members talking about “giving back” and “changing things”

The interviews of young current gangsters talking about “no way out” “it’s all I know”

Rodney of course, can’t talk about angry Black people without Rodney King

The montage of sad/crying Black parents

And the warehousing of people (Black men) by the prison complex

So, the phrase “Black on Black Crime” isn’t actually verbalized, but the…look and feel is tried and true “Black people as surrounded by/causing violence and being victims of a culture that created a quicksand of despair that we can’t seem to break away from.” Again, I guess the word needs to be put out there…but as an educated Black man it’s also a little tiring. Really? This is still new knowledge to white people? Really? This is still something you think would make an insightful thing to put all that money and time into? Really? I’ve seen this done so many times. In fact I’ve seen it done better several times (hey, I like the morphing photo effect a lot too but I’m not sure if it really reaches my heart in this context). I’ve seen where they give the kids cameras and let them film their lives for a few months and we see what’s important to THEM. What story they think should be told. But a project like this where you can’t personally follow individual just seems like it’s glossing over Standard Black Problem. It just affirms that violence/victim model.

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But I’m torn. People think we have “overcome” because they see Obama; and he is close to being a Martian than he is to most Black people, so it’s good to get this reminder of what’s truly a part of OUR daily existence. But maybe there are different problems that need to be addressed or maybe this film could have tackled why so many efforts to change things have been ineffective. I’m not sure, but I DO know that if I had had access to Peralta before this project was done it would not have looked like this when the finished product was done.