Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Another Gang(ster) Movie

So, who needs another movie about gangs; a movie aiming at a particular blunt portrayal of reality on top of that; a movie seemingly about Latino street gangs, which according to some folks is a not very helpful part of the image of Mexican-Americans. I write “seemingly” because to me it is less about “Latino street gangs” than it is about history and society, it is about the way we conducted ourselves primarily over the last 100 years.

The gang phenomenon is purely home-made, it is the result of marginalization, racism, ignorance, greed and although there are excellent initiatives, modern politics has failed to sufficiently address the problem. Just like the broken education system - one of the factors promoting gang membership - when it comes to uncomfortable change we often shy away from the big picture, from addressing the problem at its roots. Instead we build jails and prisons because they become increasingly profitable, but as it has often been said “we can’t arrest our way out of this”. Let me quote again Father G as he says "Building prisons to address crime is like building graveyards to address AIDS."

Citizen will be an inside look at what it means to be a youth street gang member, one of the biggest issues not only low-income communities face in the United States today. It is a film about family, identity, the past and the present, love and the absence of love, rooted in a modern day Los Angeles community. I found some assurance in a quote by the author, journalist and musician Ruben Martinez who says in his essay Images of East L.A.:
East Side Stories - Gang Life in East L.A.“It’s a kind of political correctness: don’t talk about the dirty laundry, don’t give the media powers-that-be ammunition to reinforce the stereotype. I told myself, and my editors, that I wanted to write about the whole community. But in fact I wasn’t writing about the “whole” precisely because I was avoiding the gangs, an undeniable reality – and an issue where culture, economics, and politics collide. In my desire to present a “positive” image, I and other Latino writers unwittingly contributed to the isolation of the barrio whose best interests we supposedly had at heart.”[1]

That is a courageous statement. Well, I am not Latino. I am a white male of European descent who grew up in a sheltered middle-class home - I couldn’t be more removed from the realities of life in the barrio. However, driven by a desire to tell the story of kids who are left to themselves, turn to the street and eventually take up arms to shoot at their perceived enemy I needed to thoroughly educate myself and dedicate my time and resources to making a film against forgetting and against a kind of cynical acceptance of the situation. It’s an unvarnished film for all those of us who are blessed with a loving family and a fair amount of opportunity in life, those of us who can give something back (a post about how to do that will follow) and prove that we haven’t forgotten these kids, the homies and the plight many of them go through.

[1] Rodriguez, Joseph; East Side Stories: Gang Life in East LA, Powerhouse 1998 p: 30

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