Thursday, October 08, 2009

Bastards of the Party

Earlier this week Joaquin Cienfuegos posted a pretty insightful documentary called Bastards of the Party on his blog. In the past D&HHP has discussed some of the basis for gangsta rap, and its political and social significance, so I'm re-posting the documentary here as it adds to that discussion.

Here's a brief description of the film from its website:

BASTARDS OF THE PARTY traces the development of black gangs in Los Angeles from the late 1940s, through the charged atmosphere of the '60s and '70s, to the breakdown of community in the '80s and '90s, and the brief truce between the Crips and Bloods that followed the Rodney King riots in 1992...BASTARDS OF THE PARTY draws its title from this passage in City of Quartz [by Mike Davis]: "The Crips and the Bloods are the bastard offspring of the political parties of the '60s. Most of the gangs were born out of the demise of those parties. Out of the ashes of the Black Panther Party came the Crips and the Bloods and the other gangs."

This is probably the first film I've seen that takes up the development of gangs in the U.S. not as a matter of "senseless violence" or bad parenting or "black pathology." Rather it situates gangs in the context of the development of class and racial tensions and struggles during the course of the 20th century, highlighting the relationship of economic underdevelopment of black communities, the capitalist offensive against the black working class especially since the 1970s, racism within the white working class, the decline of the Black Power movement, and attacks by the state on black political organizations. (For one of the few written pieces I've seen to date that makes similar connections, with a focus on the 1992 L.A. Rebellion, see this)

If I had any discontents with the movie, it would be the following. First, I have to ask where are women in this discussion? As is usually the case, the only times you see women in the film (with one exception - the interview with former Black Panther Erica Huggins) are as the grieving mothers/daughters/sisters of male gang members who have been killed. I'd be interested to see more about the story of women actually involved in gangs, and also a serious discussion of women's relationship to political organization (or lack thereof) in communities of color, how neoliberalism has attacked female workers of color, how women have responded to and fought those attacks, and the other political dynamics raised by the film.

Second, the majority of the film is able to maintain a social analysis, or in other words to look at gangs as a social phenomena and not a question of good or bad individuals. But towards the end of the film when the question of "what next?" comes up, the film resorts to individualistic responses (gang members should be better people, should stop saying nigga, etc.) to what are societal problems. Perhaps that reflects the inability of the director to envision a collective political struggle among people of color to confront and change the social relations and institutions that nurture gang violence. Whatever it reflects, it was a somewhat disappointing end to what was a pretty good documentary overall.

Anyways, for your viewing pleasure.

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