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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.
Bastards makes a point of connecting dots between history and the present, showing how myriad forces have gone into destroying the black community. In what ways, if any, did the connecting of those dots change how you see the political system in America?
Connecting the dots didn’t change what I thought about politics in this country. It confirmed what I thought. Langston Hughes wrote about a dream deferred. How about a movement deferred? Or, even better, a reality deferred? With every attempt we’ve made to empower ourselves, the rug gets snatched from under us. The leadership has been nullified or, using Wes Swearingen’s words, neutralized. People don’t know our history but continue to wag fingers and dismiss our struggles.
You say at one point in Bastards that yours is the generation that has failed the political heroes and heroines from the ’60s. But it’s also a generation that has been failed. What steps can be taken, now, to get black folk — especially youth — back on track with the visions once held by Malcolm, Martin and the Panthers?
From where I’m sitting, the climate is right for change, for getting people back on track. I talk to different homies every day — Crips and Bloods, young and old — and we all pretty much agree, black males here in Los Angeles are being moved on. Our only salvation is coming together.
Explain what you mean by moved on.
It seems that we’ve been green-lit by any and everyone who ain’t black in this city. You may think that’s extreme, or that I’m overstating the situation, but like I said, this is from where I’m sitting. There’s a push toward extinction for black males here in Los Angeles. If you’re locked up for life, you’re extinct. Of course, if you’re murdered, you’re extinct. If you’re unable to join the blue-collar lightweight industrial boom that is now going on here in Los Angeles, you’re economically extinct. We are the minority’s minority at this point, unfortunately. But I believe we’re gonna get back on the right track.
Talk a bit about how gang culture has shaped the ways that a lot of black men define themselves.
A lot of us are defined and define ourselves with this gangsta shit. We hang on to it all of our lives, even when we quote-unquote stop bangin’. I think we walk around with a sickness because we haven’t been debriefed. We live out war stories every day. For example, brothas gon’ come home from Iraq fucked-up if they don’t get debriefed, because the camaraderie from killing and surviving becomes the only thing that’s tangible. From what I understand, an LAPD officer who kills someone is counseled so it doesn’t consume him. Now, take the average cat from Compton or Watts who has experienced this lifestyle; it becomes his whole persona, his very existence. He becomes that mythical gangster figure. That’s not easy to let go of.
What’s your opinion on Bill Cosby’s views about the ills that plague black America?
I respect and love Bill Cosby. I still watch reruns of I Spy. I enjoy his Jell-O pudding antics. I think the Huxtable family is a black American dream that is attainable. But Bill Cosby is out of touch with what’s going on with the black community today. We’re not a bunch of dysfunctional niggas who can’t get our shit together. Bastards proves that the stage was set before we went on. A lot of the groundwork for the foolishness and misinformation came from the generations before us. Everybody’s mad at rappers for exploiting women, for saying nigga, etc. If we are going to hold people accountable, we got to start with the CEOs at the MTVs and BETs. And if we’re talking about black accountability, we gotta talk about black CEOs like Bob Johnson, founder of BET and Bill Cosby’s friend. We gotta start at the top. I got the bottom covered.