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Bastards of the Party directed by Cle "Bone" Sloan (review)
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"Gang bangers," like the members of the infamous Bloods and Crips in Los Angeles, live lives defined by violence and violent retribution: a never-ending "cycle of death." Few, however, can explain the roots of that cycle, or why they would choose such a life. Cle "Bone" Sloan -- a member of the Bloods, turned actor and filmmaker -- set out, in 2005, to ask those questions. Bastards of the Party, produced by Hollywood director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Tears of the Sun), sets out the answers that Sloan found. It provides essential context by reaching deep into black history and addressing a wide range of social issues, but its focus always returns to 2005, and the reality of gang life on the streets of Los Angeles.

Sloan opens the film with images of Antebellum-era "Negroes for Sale" signs and photographs of lynchings from the early twentieth century. The images highlight the deliberate annihilation of black people in America at the hands of white racists and suggest why, between the end of American slavery and World War II, thousands of blacks fled the South to escape racial prejudice and to seek better employment opportunities. Upon their arrival in the North and in the West, however, these were met with racism and restrictions on where they could work, how much they could earn, and where they could live. Long after slavery was abolished, the quality of life for most black people was defined by underpaid labor, segregation, pervasive racial discrimination, and perpetual poverty.

Having established this background, Sloan reveals the early hatred of whites toward blacks in Los Angeles, and the division of the city of Los Angeles along racial lines. The film describes how whites restricted blacks to certain residential areas, in the hope that "the weeds choke out the roses," and chronicles the systematic attacks on blacks by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and racist white gangs such as the "spook hunters." The last legal lynching in Los Angeles occurred in 1948, but throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the LAPD cracked down on "race mixing," raided black clubs that featured R&B music, and harassed black youths. This pattern of institutionalized terrorism, violence, and even murder led to the formation of early black "gangs" such as the Gladiators for protection against the police and racist whites.

Sloan's film also discusses the demise of the Black Panther Party, the subsequent the rise in gun violence (c. 1969-1972), and the decline in black leadership. The waning of the modern civil rights movement, he argues, was hastened by a consistent pattern in which the most effective black leaders were murdered or wrongfully incarcerated. Sloan presents evidence and testimony for his argument that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) not only orchestrated the decline of the Black Panthers but also instigated the friction between the Black Panthers and another black activist group, the US Organization. With these types of groups - considered by the FBI to be radicals - finally defused, the gangs expanded to fill their place. "The Crips and Bloods are the bastard offspring of the political parties of the 60s."

Although many blacks were simply trying to make ends meet, some began to replace the "we" mentality with a "me" or an "I'm going to get mine" mentality. This was exacerbated by the fact that the "have nots" had always been constantly reminded of what the "haves" possessed. The loss of semi-skilled jobs for black men in post-industrial America made matters worse, and led to increasing rates of poverty and crime. Drugs offered both an escape from poverty and the promise of wealth, but they also intensified the culture of violence. Drug-related violence spilled into white neighborhoods, leading to a national "war on drugs" and renewed anti-black violence by the LAPD that climaxed with the beating of Rodney King. Sloan continues his story with the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, the temporary truce between the Bloods and Crips gangs, concluding with the destructive conditions that have persisted to the present.

Although Sloan emphasizes the historical context, his film is not limited to uncovering gang culture's origins in racial terror, discrimination, and oppression. It also...

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