One of three films at Tribeca about gang warfare between the Crips and the Bloods, Antoine Fuqua-produced docu, directed by 32-year-old Los Angeles gang member Cle “Bone” Sloan, steps back from the vicious cycle of death and revenge long enough to answer the question, “How did we get here?” with economy and clarity. Tracing the evolution of the gangs through a history of racism and externally encouraged divisiveness, “Bastards” indicates paths away from self-genocide as it reveals the face of a common enemy. Must-see docu reps a promising start for Fuqua’s independent production venture.
An eloquent spokesperson for the Bloods since the L.A. Riots projected him into the public eye on “Larry King Live,” “Nightline” and “Oprah,” helmer Sloan subsequently became involved in filmmaking as an assistant cameraman and then as actor (most notably in Fuqua’s “Training Day”) before turning documentarian.
Sloan fashions a sobering decade-by-decade chronicle of discrimination and repression, drawing freely from contemporaneous accounts in the California Eagle, newsreels, FBI memoranda and Los Angeles historian Mike Davis’ “City of Quartz.” Pic attributes the formation of the first black gangs to self-defense against racist white gangs like the Spookhunters and analyzes the systematic targeting of the black community during the reign of police chief William Parker.
Sloan’s account becomes richer in eyewitness testimonials and archival documentation in its discussion of the ’60s, when many black gangs became associated with political causes.
Historian Davis outlines sweeping changes in black neighborhoods in the ’70s: Drained of political ambition, their leaders killed off, and facing a new economic climate that saw the closing of factories and a dearth of semi-skilled jobs, black gangs turned to drugs, imported in record quantity allegedly through CIA-Contra links and celebrated by blaxploitation films as the only viable form of black capitalism. The criminalization and warehousing of black youth in jails, pic posits, answered society’s dilemma of what to do with a superannuated workforce. (Urban legend ascribes the origin of the Crips- Bloods war to a dispute over a leather jacket.)
Sloan’s forceful presentation becomes diffused and anguished once it catches up with the decades the helmer himself has lived through. Ultimately, Sloan understands that despite the politically compelling reading of events “Bastards” constructs, history pales before the emotion-charged parade of shootings and funerals that increasingly comprise the fabric of gang members’ lives.
Tech credits are polished, though pic would profit from some tightening in its last half-hour.