May 7, 2009

Gangtown: Stacy Peralta Takes on the Bloods and Crips

Stacy Peralta's Crips and Bloods: Made in America, which airs May 12 on PBS' Independent Lens, seems like a radical departure for a filmmaker who's known for exploring skateboarding and surfing subcultures. Peralta, director of Dogtown and Z-Boys and Riding Giants, takes leave of his comfy white environs to explore the life and mostly death stories of the Crips and Bloods, Los Angeles' most notorious gangs. Peralta brings a historical perspective to the issue, revealing the early alienation among the Black community--particularly young Black men who weren't allowed to join traditional organizations such as the Boy Scouts, leading them to form their own "social clubs," bereft of adult guidance and structure.

For better or for worse--mostly worse--the clubs became a source of fraternal and familial support as economic conditions declined, fathers deserted families and social networks disappeared, forming the fabric of disillusionment fed by constant police oppression, leading to the Watts riots in 1965 and the Rodney King riots in 1992. Peralta explores the evolution from the Black Power movement of the 1960s and early '70s to today's self-destruction of Black males through the decades-long "war" between the Bloods and Crips-two main rival gangs that have claimed approximately 15,000 lives to date, and the fighting continues.

Documentary caught up with Peralta via e-mail.

This seems like a big change of subject from that of your previous films.  Why Crips and Bloods?

Stacy Peralta: I was born and raised in LA and have been aware of gang violence my entire life. In fact, I experienced gang violence at my high school in West LA--they shut it down for two days in my senior year as a result of things getting out of control. As a documentary filmmaker, I was eager to understand why this problem has been going on, unsolved, for over four decades. 

Clearly, as an educated white male of some affluence, you come from a different world than the Crips and Bloods. Did you have any issues being perceived as an "outsider?"

I thought I was going to be perceived as an outsider, but that did not happen. I was received with consideration. Many asked me why I was making the film, and they thanked me for doing it, thanked me for coming to their community and asked me not to disappear when the film was complete. I did not expect this kind of reception, but I certainly welcomed it.

Did you show the film to the gang members who participated in your project? If so, what was their reaction?

Yes, I did, and their reactions have been very strong and positive. Many have told me that prior to seeing the film, they had no idea of their own history. Many have said they want their family members to see the film, and so on.

It seems as though the LAPD and the politicians at large have been less responsive to the killings, given that they've been "black-on-black." Did you consider finding someone who would speak to this issue? It seems more would get done if the crimes were "black-on-white." Based on your findings, would you agree with this hypothesis?

Yes. I actually have interview material of various individuals stating this very idea, but I could not find an appropriate place in the film to drop it in. It's a huge subject unto itself, and it would have taken a lot of time to discuss it.

Resolving the Crips and Bloods wars is a Herculean task that requires major funding. But there seems to be a disconnect between the Crips and Bloods, who seem oblivious that they are instruments of their own destruction--saving the police the effort. Why are they not able to pull together and save themselves?

Your question is posed by someone who has clearly had the opportunity of being properly educated, thus allowing you to reason and think with perspective. Most of these young men have not graduated from high school; most have been born not only into broken families but to teenage parents; very few have ever held real jobs or had access to real jobs; and all of them have grown up in communities where acts of violence are an everyday occurrence. 

I understand the gang problem runs deeper than the Bloods and Crips. Why did you skirt the subject of the interracial gang problem between blacks and Latinos, which has overtaken the rivalry between the Bloods and Crips?

I didn't skirt it. There are many films to be made on this subject. I chose to focus on the Crips and Bloods.

Were there any surprises during the shooting or post-production that changed the direction of Made in America?

We kept running into history, and as a result there is more history in the film than I had originally intended.

Made in America is going to air on PBS' Independent Lens. How did that come about? Did you choose them or were you approached by PBS?

We chose to go with Independent Lens because they really know how to handle films such as ours. They do it like no one else, and we are really glad to be in business with them.

This was a bold film that required a deep understanding and awareness of a much-maligned and feared subculture. Do you have anything else you'd like to add?

I make films about subjects that I personally want to view and know more about.

 

Crips and Bloods: Made in America airs May 12 on PBS' Independent Lens.

Filmmaker and former Documentary editor Kathleen Fairweather is based in Austin, Texas. She can be reached at kfairweather@verizon.net.

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