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October 18, 2013

Screened for new class, film explores roots of gang violence

Crips and Bloods. We’ve all heard of these gangs before, but despite their infamy and impact on American crime, most of us have but a vague and clichéd vision of these groups. We know about gang signs, shootings, and drugs, but the actual history and nature of these gangs are not clear. Bastards of the Party handles the monstrous task of chronicling the roots and development of South Central Los Angeles’s gangs through the eyes of an ex-Blood himself. The project has an unlikely premise. A former murderer employs history-like methodology to detail a violent story clouded by myth. However, the final product is an engrossing stream of consciousness that depicts one of the darkest aspects of American society.

Bastards was screened this past Tuesday at the Center for Race and Gender Studies in conjunction with “Crime and the City,” a new undergraduate course that examines the epidemic of crime among urban youth. Cle Sloan, the director and primary narrator of this film, brings the audience with him on a journey through time to answer the question: How did we come to this? The narrator poses his question at the start of the documentary, referring to the bloodshed he has witnessed and contributed to as an ex-Blood. The introduction reveals how the next 90 minutes will be unlike most documentaries. Sloan immediately puts a human face to the subject at hand. The audience is faced with the reality that the gang world is more than a stream of news reports: It’s a community of functional and emotional human beings who are murdering each other.

As Sloan begins his investigation, the mystery is fascinating. These notorious groups have little written history and documentation. Even the members themselves are unsure why most of their traditions, beliefs, and wars exist. As the details unfold, the director uses a rapidly changing backdrop of photos, videos, music, and informal interviews with both academics and South Central locals. The quick pacing and the direct tone evoke the mobility of the investigation and the history leading up to the matter at hand.

Sloan’s eschewing of formal documentary techniques also helps the viewer grasp the nature of the investigation. The unedited inputs of various friends and acquaintances, combined with those of authors and government officials, demonstrate the issues the filmmakers face in pursuit of truth. In addition, the clips reveal how many of the facts are preserved and muddled in oral history. In short, this story could not be properly conveyed by historians sitting in armchairs.

In the end, the director delivers a sad tale of the disillusionment, police brutality, economic decay, and leadership vacuum that planted the seeds for the Bloods and Crips. As Sloan and the audience make sense of the sequence of events in tandem, the tragedy of the results becomes clear and embodied in the reflections of various gang members. The film gives a rare peek into how current and former members feel about their lives and actions, an aspect almost untouched on by media.

However, while the content of his film is bleak, Sloan manages to preserve a glimmer of hope simply by the expository nature of his work. Although he has not solved the problems he describes, he reveals a fundamental aspect of Crips and Bloods: They are still human beings. As trite as it sounds, the director proves how lives can turn around. The film will probably not bring about the end of gang brutality. However, the unique and exhaustive explanation of its root causes may inspire improved solutions. Sloan shows audiences that the entrenched and debilitating conditions favoring gang organization are complex and long lasting. In brief, solutions such as short-term police crackdowns are not the answer but instead perhaps contribute to the problem. Such messages prompt the viewers to reevaluate their views of this controversial and deep-rooted problem. Thanks to Sloan’s narrative, we can challenge ourselves to improve our search for a solution.

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