Given the public’s insatiable appetite for tales of gangbanging, plus the commercial pedigree of Dogtown And Z-Boys director (and subject) Stacy Peralta, it’s a little surprising that Crips And Bloods: Made In America didn’t receive a wider theatrical release. Or maybe it isn’t. While there’s always a market for lurid, sensationalistic thug-life chronicles, Crips And Bloods is so painfully earnest and unapologetic in its moral relativism that a better subtitle might have been Crips And Bloods: Unfortunate Victims Of Socioeconomic Iniquities. Even die-hard lefties might wind up wishing Peralta would hold his subjects a little more accountable for their actions.
Peralta puts on his sociologist cap to explore the conditions that precipitated the meteoric rise of the two bloodiest, most infamous street gangs in America. Peralta interviews academics, activists, and historians, but the heart of the film is extensive interviews with current and former gang members. For these battle-scarred street survivors, joining a gang isn’t a way of rebelling against the status quo—it is the status quo, a culture they’re born into, a tradition that offers a sense of community and purpose to impressionable young men who need them most.
Produced by NBA star Baron Davis and narrated by Forest Whitaker, Crips And Bloods alternates between macro and micro takes on gangs. Peralta offers thumbnail sketches of the development of black street life in Los Angeles in the 20th century and the great African-American migration from the rural South following Reconstruction, but he also zeroes in on the moving stories of individual gang members without delving too deep into the gangs themselves. Peralta gives his message-movie a hypnotic, swaggering G-funk rhythm and a big heart, but it’s missing something conspicuous, namely the collective story of the Crips and Bloods.
Key features: Deleted scenes that flesh out the story somewhat, an interesting making-of documentary, and interviews with Crip Snoop Dogg and Blood Lil Wayne, who nobly take time off from glorifying gang life to condemn it. Snoop, in keeping with the tenor of the project, recommends investing more in social programs as a way of fighting gang violence.