A powerful slice of current urban African-American life, “Eight-Tray Gangster” should attract immediate fest and theatrical interest for its sensational content — and respect for its sober treatment of same. Yet considerable gaps in editorial/explanatory logic will limit future television exposure as surely as the unexpurgated salty language.
Docu centers on Kershaun “Li’l Monster” Scott, who with brother “Monster Kody” (allegedly so named for his extremely brutal adolescent attack on a foe) grew up in a tranquil Southern California suburb.
But their move with Mom to South Central in 1972 “changed everything,” per Kershaun. The brothers “became adults suddenly,” forceably introduced to violent neighborhood gang ways.
On New Year’s Eve, 1981, Kody was shot point-blank three times at a convenience store. Then-14-year-old Li’l Monster immediately set in motion an all-night drive-by shooting spree in the ‘hood suspected of fostering the original attack.
Both brothers have spent subsequent hard time behind bars — the 29-year-old Kody remains there on an assault conviction, while his book “Monster: The Autobiography of ‘Monster Kody’ ” undergoes current Atlantic Press publishing hype.
Li’l Monster, aka Kershaun, now does community service work with South-Central kids. But his activities have to be managed on the sly for fear that old gang ties may yet have violent consequences. “Eight-Tray Gangster” is strong stuff on several levels. Both brothers have obviously evolved over time into thoughtful, articulate spokesmen for an embattled community. They discuss the teachings of Malcolm X and the need for black youth to “stop shooting each other.”
Yet Kershaun, with his fellow members of the “New African Militia” goes target shooting in the L.A. hills and disparages the non-violent approach of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The film could be much better organized to reveal these seeming contradictions as part of an actual, organized philosophy. Chronology is also confused by scant differentiation of footage — some shot in the summer of 1989, some in the wake of the Rodney King verdict nearly three years later.
In evident sympathy for the subjects, first-time helmer Thomas Lee Wright sometimes willfully omits crucial elements of their milieu. What point does it serve to completely avoid the issue of drug trafficking and use in lower-class black neighborhoods?
Pic doesn’t pretend to be a comprehensive statement. Nor does it offer central figures as “typical” current or former gang members, despite the “Making of” subtitle.
Yet its gaps are troubling in this incendiary context. Editing adjustments and perhaps some added intertitles or narration would help clear up the more nagging questions that remain after closing credits. Tech credits are otherwise appropriately rough-hewn but competent.
For both inner-city and general auds, “Eight Tray” will certainly provide a hard-hitting forum for discussion. When Kershaun’s current best friend-bodyguard coolly says, “I figure I can kill about 20 more … then go get a job and get married,” the intimacy leaves little room for viewer comfort.
Wright suggests the real “monster” is institutionalized U.S. neglect of its marginalized citizens. The consequences are right here onscreen, in harsh and often frightening form.