By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
“How did we go from calling each other brother to saying, ‘Kill that nigga’?” asks Cle “Bone” Sloan, gang member turned filmmaker, in his documentary Bastards of the Party. Illuminating, frequently infuriating and often depressing, Bastards is an exhaustively researched look at the history and legacies of the Bloods and the Crips. Bone, a 38-year-old former Blood, made the film after years of banging and bloodshed finally led him to ask the simple question Where does this culture of death come from?
Bastards starts in the present, then leaps back to the great African-American migration from the South to the West in the mid 20th century. It chronicles the racism black folk encountered upon their arrival, and how they slowly carved neighborhoods and communities of their own. News to many will be the fact (also detailed in a comprehensive 2006 report on the history of the Bloods and the Crips by Sheriff’s Department gang expert Detective Wayne Coffey) that white gangs — with names like the Spook Hunters — planted the seeds of modern gang strife in L.A. when black school kids banded together to protect themselves from attacks. By the time white flight solved the problem of white gangs, black gangs like the Slausons, the Farmers and the Gladiators began to turn on one another.
The axis of the film, however, is the new life it breathes into the not-altogether-novel argument that the federal government, and the FBI in particular, pitted the Black Panther Party, and its L.A. leader, Bunchy Carter, against Ron Karenga and his US (United Slaves) movement, leaving both movements in ruins and creating a devastating political and cultural — not to mention spiritual — void in the local African-American community. Bastards is filled with fantastic gangsta-on-the-street interviews, archival photos and news footage, and interviews with Geronimo Pratt, other black activists and L.A. historian Mike Davis. As it unfolds, it presents an ever-deepening perspective not just on gang lore but on the black experience in Los Angeles, with its ripple effects on the national stage.
In the midst of a frenzy of promotional activity to hype the film’s February 6 HBO premiere (you can catch it all month on HBO’s various channels), while at the same time taking care of his young son, Bone sat down to answer questions about the film, the current state of black life in Los Angeles and his take on black and brown tensions in the city.
L.A. WEEKLY:What made you decide to make this film?
CLE SLOAN: After I started learning the information, getting the whole story down and connecting the dots, I began sharing the history with my homeboys, explaining to them that we were the bastard offspring of the black liberation movement — out of the ashes of the Panther party, the Crips were born. Crips stood for Community Revolutionary Inter-Party Service. That alone tells you that the Crips initially were trying to identify with the Black Panther Party and the whole black liberation movement. I got obsessed. A couple of homies started saying, “Bone, you should write a book!” I said, “What for, y’all ain’t gon’ read it!” At the time, I was a second A.C., camera assistant, by profession and decided to make it easy for them by putting the information on film.
Bastardswas begun in 1996. How does the final film differ from what you first imagined it would be?
My vision was always based on history, so it pretty much stayed the same. The only thing that changed since ’96 was me. In 1996, my young homie Mouse was killed. He was the son of my O.G. homie, Big Mouse, who’s now serving 40 years in a Nevada state penitentiary. Before Big Mouse went to jail, he asked me to look out for his twin sons, Tyrell and Cyrell. Cyrell was killed three days after I interviewed him for the film. A week after that, the question was posed to me on film: What would I do if I ran into Li’l Mouse’s killer? Back then, I said I wouldn’t hesitate to kill him. In 2003, I was asked if I felt the same way. I said no. Because I know the killing won’t stop unless I stop.
Were there films or filmmakers you studied to model your filmmaking technique on, and to modelBastardson?
It’s a combination of all the great people I’ve worked with — Antoine [Fuqua, director of TheReplacement Killers and Training Day, and executive producer of Bastards] and John Lindley, Mauro Fiore and a couple other cinematographers. I was exposed to Kurosawa by Antoine and fell in love with his work — movies like Throne of Blood, Seven Samurai and Ran. I watch a lot of foreign films. My recent favorites are Memories of Murder and Oldboy — great films.
What was the most shocking thing you learned in the course of your research and filming?
When I sat down with former FBI agent Wes Swearingen, who explained just how far the FBI went to neutralize the black liberation movement, particularly the Black Panthers on the West Coast. He exposed the murder of Bunchy Carter in his interview, explaining how they not only wanted to neutralize Bunchy but to discredit him. In his own words, he said that the FBI originally planned for Bunchy to die in Watts in a drug-deal-gone-bad scenario, but — and these are his words — sometimes informants don’t do what you tell them to do. Instead, on January 17, 1969, Bunchy Carter was killed in Campbell Hall on the campus of UCLA. That revelation was definitely a smoking gun for me. Blacks in America have always been written off as conspiracy theorists, even though some of these things have manifested before our own eyes. But when we try to point some of these things out, they almost mockingly say that our accusations have no credibility, can’t be proved. The murder was not only a smoking gun, but a confirmation that behind the scenes, strings are definitely being pulled.