Bastards of the Party

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10 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 6
HBO


"Bastards of the Party" is one of those feature documentaries that practically reviews itself. Fascinating, insightful, comprehensive and altogether sobering, this HBO original painstakingly -- and with enormous scope -- chronicles the rise and development of black gangs in Los Angeles from the 1940s through the present day. And it isn't at all what you think.

Rather than simply a history of modern urban street warfare, it crafts a profound narrative about not only the "how" but the "why." The project's roots center on Cle "Bone" Sloan, now labeled as an "inactive" member of the notorious Bloods gang, who started banging when he was 12 and was inspired to take a hard look at the culture that bred him following the Los Angeles riots of 1992. He produced and directed this absorbing exploration in tandem with feature director Antoine Fuqua of "Training Day" fame, cutting through the jargon to illustrate not only how the Bloods and the Crips came to be but the events that led to them turning on one another to produce a certain self-genocide.

The most profound point of "Bastards" is its carefully crafted illustration of the way black gang activity sprouted out of survival and despair rather than hostility and criminality. In interviews with members of 1950s- and '60s-era gangs with names like the Farmers, the Slauscons, the Businessmen and the Gladiators, we learn that the groups formed not to deal drugs and terrorize neighborhoods but as a means to band together against the dehumanizing and often deadly racism encountered throughout even their own neighborhoods. They were essentially civil rights offshoots of the Black Panthers.

It was only in the '70s that the members began to turn on each other. This proves to be a bracingly educational piece of television bolstered by a sliver of hope: Sloan's own call for a peaceful evolution of the gang mission. It certainly makes sense that only by studying the past can a culture's future destiny be truly altered.
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