Stacy Peralta’s ‘Crips and Bloods: Made in America’ (2008)


Stacy Peralta’s documentary Made in America is ostensibly about the Crips and Bloods, two rival gangs in south Los Angeles. Instead, Peralta spends much of his time creating a brief sketch of the development of street gangs in LA and then turns to uninformative testimonials from current and former Crips and Bloods members. Peralta seems unable to ask tough questions, so he ends up only being able to say things that have been said before: there’s a lack of father figures in the Black community, mothers are overworked or have drug problems, crack cocaine broke up families, innocent bystanders are killed. He doesn’t delve into the particular cultures of the Crips and the Bloods or the structure of the gang as an organization, and he reduces the discussion about drug trade to a single, throwaway sentence. The most poignant point the film makes occurs within the first few minutes of Forrest Whitaker’s sparse narration: if the feud between the Crips and the Bloods resulted in a pile of white bodies instead of Black bodies, would the government be doing more to end this modern-day “civil war”?

Much of the film’s visuals consist of photos of young, shirtless men, flexing their muscles and showing off their weapons to a hip electronic and hip-hop soundtrack. Peralta walks a dangerous line between documenting and glorifying this culture, sometimes practically giving these men a pass for participating in this way of life because of the cultural restrictions placed on working-class Black men. I recognize that structures exist in society that make joining a gang a very appealing alternative for many young men of color; however, not every Black teenager ends up in a gang. Somewhere along the way a choice is made.

I was also very disappointed about women’s participation in this documentary. Most of them appear in the section about the effects of gang violence. A few of them talk about the deaths of their loved ones, but most are featured in a montage of women who have lost family members crying silently. One scholar of street gangs is a white woman, and besides her only one woman, who speaks one sentence, discusses gangs in a context apart from having a murdered relative. The effect of this segregation is that women come across as only passive victims. Why weren’t more women’s impressions or experiences with gangs, from either outside or inside the culture, included?


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