Filmmaker Stacy Peralta has made a career documenting American subcultures that he knows first hand: the 2001 skateboarding film, “Dogtown and Z Boys” (Peralta was a member of the legendary Z Boys team) and the 2004 surf documentary, “Riding Giants.” With his latest film, Crips and Bloods: Made In America, the Los Angeles native takes on South Central’s gang epidemic — an issue he had always been closely aware of but never realized the depths of.
“I knew a certain amount of the problem all my life. My high school in Santa Monica was closed down for a while because of gang violence. But I never really understood the level of the problem,” says Peralta. “I wanted to see if there was a human face behind this.”
With his trademark bombastic and compelling style, Peralta’s film is narrated by Forest Whittaker and looks at the inception of gangs in LA starting in the 1950s, to the ongoing present and future crisis. Tonic recently talked to Peralta about his motivations for making the film, which was released earlier this year.
Q: How did you gain access and trust among the gang members who you interviewed?
A: It was one person leading to another person. Wherever we went we were escorted in. Never did we just show up somewhere. I come from a subculture, which is a lot about paying respect. I knew that you have to treat people with dignity and pay respect to people in charge.
Q: What inspired you to make this film?
A: I’ve never seen gang members portrayed as human beings. And they are human beings who are caught in a vicious cycle. It’s a social problem. I don’t think our government would treat this problem the same way if it were affluent, middle class white American teenagers killing each other. Yet in the African American communities it’s been going on for four decades. Teenagers are killing each other and not over oil rights. The Crips and Bloods brands are being started in other countries. They want a piece of that identity.
Q: You’ve said this film has been fifteen years in the making. What obstacles did you come across?
A: Hollywood has shown a comfort level exploiting this problem, but has shown no interest in showing the problem. And many in Hollywood consider themselves liberal. The popularity did go out with gangster rap music. Studios said “no.”
Q: While shooting the film did you find yourself in dangerous situations?
A: All the time. I was constantly thinking I made a huge mistake. I would get really upset and twisted. Then I would meet a kid and he would tell me his story. I would think: People need to hear what’s going on. That’s what kept me going. And a few weeks would go by and the same thing would happen.
Q: What advice do you have for young filmmakers?
A: Don’t think too much about obstacles. Just start. You don’t have to have confidence, just desire to do it. If you can get out of bed you can do it. The most important thing is the energy to do it.
Q: How can people get involved to help?
A: People can be mentors to youths in their communities. We have a list of organizations at the end of the film that people can get in touch with to learn more and be involved.
The organizations include:
o Voices Behind Walls
o The Amer-I-Can Program
o Unity One
o I-Can Youth Foundation