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Review: 'Crips and Bloods: Made in America'

May 12, 2009 |  3:00 am
Cripsvsbloods“Crips and Bloods: Made in America,” a documentary feature airing tonight on the PBS series "Independent Lens," begins with the arresting picture -- not a picture of an arrest, although those come soon enough -- of downtown Los Angeles hanging upside down in the sky. It's a simple but surprisingly potent image -- the city stood on its head -- and it captures as well as anything the menace and nonsense of its subject, the self-destructive assertion of territory and tribe.

With a rivalry going back nearly 40 years, the Crips and the Bloods have long since become symbols of Southland life as iconic as swimming pools and movie stars, yet they belong to a circumscribed world most of us know only through the news or as a background for cop shows. Even given the body count -- some 15,000 dead according to this film -- they remain easy to ignore because -- to paraphrase an earlier L.A. gangster, Bugsy Siegel -- they mostly kill each other. (And when the bullets go stray, they kill only their neighbors.) Romanticized and demonized and in either case forbidding, they are hard to see straight. "Made in America" is not without its faults, but it does pull back the curtain a little; it cuts a few holes through the haze.

Director Stacy Peralta, former skateboarding champion and the director also of the well-regarded "Dogtown and Z-Boys," about the rise of modern skate culture, writes that he made the film to answer the question, "If affluent, middle-class white American teenagers were forming gangs, arming themselves with automatic weapons and killing one another, how would our country respond?" And, given the obvious answer -- with concern -- "why is it that young African-Americans have been involved in this spiral of death for over four decades with no viable solution in sight?"

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(Photo courtesy PBS)