American Gangster - What Has It Wrought & Will It Bring? - BlackRadioIsBack Opinion Piece

** NOTE - Just to be straight up, I'm rambling a bit on this - got inspired and it's quiet at the 9 to 5 today. **

The movie American Gangster has lots of music projects (Jay-Z, I see you), documentaries, books, etc. coming out of the woodwork, it seems.

I'm just hoping right now when I see the movie this weekend at the local movie theatre (where I'll be smuggling my snacks in my purse, since spending $5.00 for a microwaved big pretzel where you have to apply your own salt is NOT the business) that I won't be disappointed by at least the basics of good storytelling and whatnot and be entertained (which I'm sort of doubting since the actors, writers and directors with the project are top notch 99.9% of the time).

I have no problem admitting that I like a quality gangster and/or violence inspired movie - it would be crazy for me to front. It's all supposed to be entertainment and heck, I'm grown, so the "R" rating doesn't apply. Quality art is always appreciated and I'm a big artistic freedom sort of lady.

I'm personally concerned about something else a little bit deeper.

One of the things that's not really addressed terribly much with some of these sort of movies or other forms of media that cover Black Gangsters, Black Crime, etc. is the trickle down effect what happens to all of the surrounding parties by these actions - psychological, social, physical, etc. - from the family members of these folks committing crime, regular neighborhood people, etc.

Also, the reason why folks got into the business (whether right or wrong) and the circumstances of the world they were in gets glossed over or not touched at all, making it look like automatically, you deal and things shoot to the top with riches, b***hes, no snitches, etc. and become "SupaGangstaNegro".

No mention of economic circumstance, class issues, etc. that bring these things up in the first place most of the time as something to even consider dealing with. No mention of all of the pitfalls the game has on a real level (snitches, not being able to damned near trust anyone, especially when the money comes in, Hip-Hop Police on Local, State and Federal levels and whatnot).

It is garbage for these issues and scenarios to not get exposure like that for others to achieve understanding and to think that they can at least attempt to reduce the circumstances that drive folks to commit crime in the first place.

I don't know if that's the case yet with this movie and won't make assumptions, but have to be real where I hope it leans a bit more towards the Casino side of showing "where OK dudes become criminals for survival and have things go terribly wrong because of jacked up decisions and folks around them" than Scarface (which to this day while a decent movie, I still don't dig why Tony Montana gets all of the props - he got coked up to the gills, had his sister go loony and get killed, murdered his best friend on some Oedipal complex stuff and gets offed in the back by Sosa on some chill s*** after wilin' - but eh, that's another posting).

I just know what going to total extremes - excusing and lack of understanding anything that goes down - helps no one.

Black folks (heck, all folks) cannot just be straight up apologists for bugged out crime and criminality whether for popularity or wanting to go with the flow. As much as we know that the American Law System can be and has been corrupt towards People of Color, sometimes people just set up themselves on some foolishness, it's not just "the man", it's also YOU MAN not doing things proper and/or smart.

However, to just ignore the circumstances that crime rises from and why some of these criminal folks became what they are as well as why some are still looked up to today in regards to hustle, business, enterprise, etc. is not logical.

Sometimes it feels that some of our elders just go to the "young folks is crazy" defense without realizing (or wanting to acknowledge, depending on situation) that on some plane - directly at the home/neighborhood or indirect via other forms of media (what 20 year old you know is a head of a major broadcasting corporation, OK?), the youth are a reflection of what is passed down to us - the good, the bad and the extremely ugly. And somehow, not trying to bring the 15 - 35 demographic in the mix of things and conversation to change things is if nothing, a bit slow on the uptake. (After all, how can you have a meaningful conversation on Hip-Hop/Rap Influence and only have very few folks from the last 2 waves Hip-Hop generation involved?)

Anyhow, the point of all of this is, I'm just going to go ahead and from my viewpoint, break down what I feel are a good things to read and watch that show that Black Crime, its effects and what is really good - make your own decision on the path you take, agree with, not feel, whatever.


These excellent magazines put a great, direct and non-preachy/self-righteous focus on that - Don Diva, F.E.D.S. & AsIs. I'm sure there are more out, but I read these constantly.


I'll do the in depth reviews of these books soon in our "Read A Book" feature we'll be jumping off soon...just wanted to hit you w/ the covers and some basic info....

These books truly show how corrupt things can be in the criminal realm and how Black Criminality can really destroy a community from the inside out (outside forces are guaranteed to a degree, so why cut yourself, nah mean?).

Black Brothers, Inc. : The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia's Black Mafia by Sean Patrick Griffin

Blue Rage, Black Redemption: A Memoir by Stanley Tookie Williams with foreword by Tavis Smiley


As much as some folks have various beefs and issues with BET a.k.a. Black Entertainment Television (some of which are extremely understandable), I can't front on the American Gangster Documentary Series from the past few seasons.

Personally, I think its the best programming that they're offering right now on the channel. In the span of one hour, you get a lot of information at a fast clip from credible sources on all sides telling a particular story of how what person came to be that criminal and the images that formed from that (family, friends, enemies, law enforcement, reporters, etc.).

I don't know if the D.C. Snipers episode is going to show again on the channel anytime soon, but that in a nutshell was an example of why this series is so important.

For one, its mad intelligent - you don't need to have poorly acted reenactments to tell a story and doesn't shy away from the facts that while most of these folks were enterprising in some ways (some on the level of genius), that it didn't come easy or without any negative effects on personal and other levels. Most of the time, the series is interviews along with pictures and maybe some extra video clips with Ving Rhames doing the authorative narration (them cancelling his Kojak series was just the wackness).

Also, the resources these directors, etc. get are pretty incredible. You do a documentary on Frank Lucas (have to tie this in back to American Gangster, the movie; this joint acutally premieres on BET on Wednesday, October 31, 2007) and being able to actually get him to talk about everything from prison openly and for the first time. You get the information about his heroin enterprise, his mentorship with famous Harlem Gangster "Bumpy" Johnson, how the game it made him rich, etc. that folks tend to expect and has its moments of excitement.

The deep part to me while watching the advance was him breaking down how southern racism from his youth in the 1930s and 1940s affected him in a way to rebel against anything that resembled being subservient and poor and his reasoning to why after being on top, becoming cooperative with the federal government, essentially "snitching" on fellow drug lords and after a long stint in jail, still trying to get back in the life (and getting arrested again afterwards, now being a 75 year old man in prison).

Most of American Gangster series is like that - they try to get the word out of the person's own mouth of why certain things happened and if not them, the closet resources possible. No psychological or sociological stone is unturned, which sometimes, can make for uncomfortable but necessary viewing (poverty breeds bad situations, poor family situations can make things bad, there is a history of racism and prejudice in this country that is unnatural and sometimes fueled to continue by our own government, etc.).

This series is like a training manual for the armed forces - you will see everything that's good and make your own decision whether to sign the dotted line to get into the war (or how to avoid that entirely).

Peep a clip from the American Gangster First Season DVD Collection that's out here to get a basic idea of what this series is about.

Video Bonus: Frank Lucas, Jr. (the real son of drug dealer Frank Lucas, who the American Gangster movie is based off of) Music Video with Blue Magic (yup, the 70s group) - Blue Magic

Frank Lucas Jr. Website
Frank Lucas Jr. Interview about His Father and Other Subjects


Joi said...

Hey DJ Fusion,

This was an interesting post. I guess I never took the time to even analyze why gangsters do what they do. Because in the end what ever empire they built has basically destroyed their own people and their former (if they got big and moved out) neighborhood. I'm definitely going to check out American Gangster this weekend though.

DJ Fusion/FuseBox Radio Broadcast said...

Hey "me",

Glad you came through to the site! :)

Yeah, this was just something that was on my mind - it definitely doesn't excuse things that go down when folks commit crime, but to a degree, I feel that some parties want to keep Black people in that cycle rather than channel those energies in something else.