A cluster of neighborhoods in the heart of Southern California is home to two of America's most infamous gangs: the Crips and the Bloods. Over the course of their 40-year feud, more than 15,000 people have been murdered in an ongoing cycle of violence that continues unabated. Neighborhoods are staked out, and rigid boundaries are drawn; crossing a street or taking a wrong turn can mean death. Nearly a quarter of the region’s young men who survive the violence will end up in jail or prison.
Narrated by Forest Whitaker, CRIPS AND BLOODS: Made in America combines in-depth interviews with current and former gang members, educators, historians, family members and experts with historical and present-day footage to graphically portray the rivalry between African American gangs in South Los Angeles. Three former gang members—Ron, Bird and Kumasi—recount their experiences growing up in the neighborhood in the 1950s, when segregation kept blacks and whites strictly separated, both by police-enforced neighborhood boundaries and in public organizations like the Boy Scouts. Young black males began forming their own groups, clubs where they could find a sense of belonging. Fighting between rival clubs became part of that culture, but the only weapons then were a strong pair of fists.
The 1950s were a period of black prosperity in Los Angeles, fed by the abundance of industry-based jobs. By the end of the decade, however, those industries began to disappear, resulting in high rates of unemployment. This downward economic spiral along with years of prejudice, racial profiling and heavy-handed police methods, produced an explosive situation. In 1965, a routine traffic stop erupted into full-scale civil conflict on the streets of Watts. The FBI killed and jailed many leaders of the era’s Black Pride Movement, and without strong leadership to steer youth in positive directions, gangs became active once more. This time, their weapons were guns.
In the film, current gang members describe gang life and the status, protection and other benefits membership gives them, painting a bleak picture of the physical, social and personal devastation that is the hallmark of South Los Angeles. Academics and other experts, including California State Senator Tom Hayden and author Gerald Horne, suggest ways of solving underlying problems, rather than just attacking gang-related street violence. Meanwhile, the most promising solutions may come from the people in the neighborhood itself, where former gang members and other concerned individuals have taken on the task of working with young people and providing a positive alternative to gang membership.
Director Stacy Peralta (Dogtown and Z Boys, Riding Giants) brings his trademark dynamic visual style and storytelling ability to this often-ignored chapter of America's history. Hard-hitting, yet ultimately hopeful, CRIPS AND BLOODS not only documents the emergence of the Bloods and the Crips and their growth beyond the borders of South Central, but also offers insight as to how this continuing tragedy might be resolved.