Dogtown and Z-Boys helmer Stacy Peralta’s pop-documentary style is grafted to sharp sociological analysis in Crips and Bloods: Made in America, a look at the 40-year gang war between Los Angeles’s rival Bloods and Crips. A symphonic score and tight, snazzy editing immediately suggest a flashy nonfiction recap of the South L.A. factions’ long-standing conflict, which over the past three decades has resulted in 15,000 murders. Yet though Peralta utilizes a mainstream-friendly aesthetic to keep his material gripping and accessible, he nonetheless rebuffs glibness from the outset. With sober intelligence, he details the means by which a confluence of explosive interrelated factors—the LAPD’s authoritarian, racist tactics; geographic segregation; the absence of African-American fathers; and the disappearance of working-class industrial jobs—helped set the stage for the 1965 Watts riots and, after the black power movement’s assassination-assisted collapse, the gangs’ genesis. As Crips and Bloods argues, these various forces helped inspire a level of self-hatred in African-American males that led them to segregate their own neighborhoods and wage war against each other, an argument backed by many current and former gang members, who express sorrow, anger, frustration and resignation over the ongoing combat.
Peralta’s presentation, a mixture of archival footage, talking-head interviews and pertinent statistics amped-up by hip-hop beats and diagrammatic imagery, is so concise and efficient that it often overshadows the fact that some of his doc’s contentions aren’t particularly novel. And despite a seriousness of intent, some of the most intriguing topics raised—such as the film’s belief that change must be affected from within the community, and the issue of why that transformation has been so difficult to achieve given all the grieving relatives who desire peace and stability—might have benefited from more attention. Still, if the director gives short shrift to these and other important facets of the story (such as the gangs’ involvement in organized criminal activity), and his choice of interview subjects doesn’t include almost any dissenting voices, he nonetheless fashions a compelling portrait of how economic and social oppression have helped contribute to the Bloods and Crips’ bloody civil war.