Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bastards of the Party

Growing up in NYC I didn't really become familiar with the gang scene in LA until the emergence NWA. And even after they came out, crews like the Decepticons, A.T.C, and the Hollis Crew were fierce and time consuming enough that the Bloods and Crips barely entered my imagination. As I matured and "gangsta rap" and west coast rap artists become more popular so did the Bloods and Crips. The movie Colors also, played a major role in spurring my voyeuristic intrigue about what was really happening over there in LA. When the Stop the Violence and We're All in the Same Gang movements took hold, I was one of the many people asking why are we killing each other, but asking this question from the comfort of my Jamaica Queens home, that was divorced from the gang conflicts in LA. We may have had crews, crack and kingpins in New York, but it's hard for New Yorkers to really fathom the genocide that has been slowly mounting in Los Angeles. Worst of all, we may have mocked our brothers and sisters out west, threw up W's, and shaken our heads as our younger cousins Crip-walked, but for the most part most New Yorkers of my generation were spared the atrocity that our friends in Cali lived through.

New York, as is the case with many urban centers across the country has been infiltrated by Bloods and Crips offshoots in the last decade, a situation that became increasingly prominent during my time away from the city from 1998-2003. When I returned home in 2003, it was unsettling hearing younger cousins talk about friends who professed to being down with the Bloods, and watching news broadcasts of raids occuring in Brooklyn.

When The Game came out in 2005 he professed to put the West Coast back on the map and help set the record straight, and in some ways he did. He's the anti-Ice Cube in the sense that Cube was the gangsta that Amerikkka was not ready for, while Game was the latest in the calvalcade that America has been perversely embracing. With Game's record contract came shoe endorsements, a movie deal, none of which could have materialized without a platinum selling album, and the transposition of the Bloods from the organization that Americans hated and feared to the one that became a common place marker for the expendability of black life, and the indiscriminate nature of consumerist appetites for entertainment.

Now, in 2007, filmmakers Antoine Fuqua and Cle "Bone" Sloan have done what rappers have failed to do in 17years, put LA gangs in their proper context. Bastards of the Party documents two organizations, the Bloods and Crips, that are as American as the Democrats and Republicans, Coke and Pepsi, Yankees and Red Sox, except rather than settle their battles with ballots, bottles or baseballs, they do it with bullets. Bastards of the Party is a narrative about forty years of political disenfranchisement that stretches from the tail end of the Vietnam War to the current war in Iraq, a time period that also features the dramatic historical markers known as the Cold War, Iran-Contra, Apartheid and now Darfur.

It's an incredibly moving experience told through a cinematic lens as eloquently honest as a Morrison novel, and just as brutally vulnerable. Sloan's vision is not that of the outsider, but rather the insider. Like all great narrators he's the soldier that survived the war, the death camp and in return for escaping the grave, he's offered a medium through which to tell his story. Watching the documentary you'll notice that he's not as much offered a medium, but rather called up or haunted upon to bring this story to life.

In a generation that has long lived on the false dreams that Biggie or Tupac may have been the next Malcolm or Martin, Cle Sloan has come along to give us hope yet again, not that these slain civil rights leades will be revived, but instead that someone, somewhere will again show an appreciation for black life. This film asks if not now, when? If not Darfur, Haiti, then how about Compton? If not reform our schools, our streets, then how about our prisons?

I urge everyone to check their local listings to see Bastards of the Party, because as the documentary grimly implies, as each passes, so do the lives of the men and women seeking nothing else except survival.

HBO Viewing Schedule

NYTimes Review


Smiling Sista said...

will watch. thanks.

nyashazasha said...

This is exciting and seems long overdue. Thanks for the info.

Alice B. said...

when you say that you hope the film may be a sign of a regain of appreciation for "black" life, are you somehow making a connection between gang membership and "blackness"? (is that why barack obama - or probably you for that matter in some people's eyes- can't be "black" in the America of 2007?)

and though it has been documented that boys need rites of passage to become men, are gangs really the most efficient way a people can provide that rite of passage? (not that you argued that but i thought i'd throw it out there.)

(can you see I have neither a soft spot nor a positive emotional reaction to this film or its subject?)

The Nightshift Chronicler said...

I was by no means suggesting that one should endear "gang banging." I meant appreciation "for black life" rather literally. No one with a conscience can watch the roll call of deaths and walk away thinking that something like cripwalking in videos is innocent fun. I am also not advocating that one develop a soft spot for films like this, but it does arm people in our generation for a conversation that many have been trying to bring to the fore for decades. The gang situation has gotten out of control, out of Los Angeles, and out of California.