MADE IN AMERICANR
We’re all familiar with the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, where over 4,000 U.S. troops have been killed and a greater number injured—to say nothing of the deaths of Iraqi civilians, soldiers, and bona-fide enemies of America. But you might have difficulty believing that right here in the U.S., where our residents have had to absorb the horrors of nearly 3,000 deaths from 9/11, 15,000 Americans have been killed over the past three decades by…other Americans. This civil war has taken place, or rather is still in progress, in the South Central district of Los Angeles, otherwise known as Watts, where African-Americans are targeting other African-Americans in a senseless campaign of drive-by shootings and street-to-street gunplay—an exhibition of self-hatred perhaps unknown in this country since the end of the Civil War in 1865.
The bulk of devastation has little to do with murders that “make sense,” like robbery or revenge against individuals specially targeted by their victims. Made in America is primarily about the conflict between the Crips and the Bloods, the two best-known and most notorious gangs still active in our land. Stacy Peralta, whose Dogtown and Z-Boys chronicled the pioneering Zephr skateboarders, uses the same exuberant directing techniques that made that 2001 doc a hit, with its thumping soundtrack and fast-moving visuals.
Peralta has a controversial point of view about the source of the violence within the South Central community, one that puts his picture politically on the left; he believes that the violence is for the most part the result of society’s ignoring the people who live in that poor community or, even worse, continuing to target its residents for brutalizing, police-inspired terror. If beatings are relatively rare, not so is the regular harassment by the cops of black people who have the nerve to enter primarily white nabes. The director allows the talking heads to sound off about the diverse causes of anger. At least one Watts resident claims that the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Explorer Scouts in California wanted no part of the black population to join—so what’s a guy to do? Given the statistic that 70% of the black families in the area are born from single parents with no male role models in the apartments, the young men feel a need for family. They consider the Crips and the Bloods to be not gangs, but rather their kin.
The principal flaw of the film is that while we in the audience can understand the rage that leads to violence, we are never clear on why blacks are killing blacks simply because they wear the wrong colors on their bodies—red for Bloods, blue for Crips. The only (vague) evidence we see for the schism is the self-hatred caused ostensibly by forces hostile to African-Americans.
Peralta, a 50-year-old former skateboarder, provides background to the devastation with archival films dating back to the pre-World War II time when most blacks lived in the South, where jobs were to be had on the land. During World War II, factory gigs encouraged a migration to the north, but as the war ended—and even in our own day as the economy dries up—the jobs disappeared, creating massive unemployment. The schools, in the view of one of the interview subjects, are graduating functional illiterates, and the constant shootings leave hopelessness in their wake.
Peralta directs as though he were filming yet another skateboarding movie, which is meant to be a compliment. Fast editing, a dizzying array of scenes, panning shots of the city of Los Angeles showing South Central to be surrounded by wealth and tourist attractions, and a largely hip-hop soundtrack make this movie appear more like a fictional entertainment than a well-researched documentary.