Crips and Bloods: Made in America, directed by Stacy Peralta, opens with an aerial shot of an upside-down Los Angeles. As the shot rights itself, it zooms into the neighborhoods of South Central L.A., and the story jumps into the heart of the matter: the historical conditions of racism and inequality that have created a culture of inner-city violence. Using historical footage and stills, along with narration from Forrest Whitaker, the film traces both government policies and cultural biases that drove a community to turn on itself.
The script was well researched, providing a powerful punch in the opening half, culminating with the riots in Watts in 1965. But it is also here where the film spends too much time on a point that is made well but repeatedly. Police repression had reached a point where the residents of South Central had no option but to fight back with everything at their disposal.
The complexity of Crips and Bloods: Made in America is handled straightforwardly, and the film allows the gang members to speak for themselves. This was one part of the film I was left wanting more of, the human portraits of the people who must deal with this condition on an hour-by-hour basis.
Some of the interviews were too staged, even when using a room with walls covered in graffiti. The filmmaker tried to overcome this in post-production by layering on his trademark style. It resulted in a film where too many formalist methods competed for my attention when I was wanting to focus on the story at hand.
The extraneous camera movement was like having someone point to where they wanted me to focus at every turn, instead of me being able to let my gaze find its own way. I tend toward the realist camp but appreciate formalist styles that speak to the story. I felt there were too many different stylistic treatments competing for my interests. I’d prefer letting some of the raw images speak for themselves.
While I initially applauded the use of current mapping technology to help me wrap my head around the geographical elements of the story, it felt like a Dateline segment after repeated uses of flashpoints on the maps. The cliched use of white flashes along with gunfire to pump up still images of gangsters with guns also fell into that TV news-show style.
Toward the end of the film, the message came across too hard and heavy and went over the edge when crying mothers whose sons had been murdered were presented one after another, staged in the graffiti room and with subtitles telling the names and ages of those who had been killed. This whole bit came across like a UNICEF commercial, and it was at that point when I was wondering when the film was going to wrap up. There were several moments where the end seemed to be there, but wasn’t. The ending became a montage of all the good quotations and segments that either didn’t fit in elsewhere or were deemed too valuable to cut.
As much as I didn’t care for the film’s style, it presented a thoughtful attack on government policies and social prejudices that have created the worst imaginable scenario for people who are supposed to be living in an equal society but who experience anything but equality and freedom. In particular, it showed how and why the typical hard-handed response from authorities does not work.