It was easy to find the premiere of Gusmano Cesaretti's motorcycle-club documentary Take None Give None, even if it was an hour east of Los Angeles. Four dozen bikers snaked behind the Mission Tiki Drive-in in Montclair, one blocking traffic while his buddies gunned up the service-road entrance, purred past the line of paying customers and hopped off their rides to give each other burly hugs.
The Chosen Few was founded in 1959 by Lionel Ricks, aka “the Father.” Ricks was black, as were the gang's first six recruits. The seventh, White Boy Art, was caucasian.
“I broke the color barrier in South Central Los Angeles in 1960,” White Boy Art says with pride, hoisting his toddler grandson onto his bike. Since then, the gang has let in so many different colors of people that its fist logo is rainbow-striped. Its ballad, “The Saga of the Chosen Few,” hails the “Blacks, Whites, Asians & Hispanics/Chosen Few Blazing on Their Backs.”
“It wasn't a conscious idea we were gonna be an integrated club,” Ricks says in Take None Give None. (More conscious, Cesaretti notes, was that Ricks, an only child, wanted to “start his own family.”) Ricks just wanted rebels who could ride — and survive his tough tryouts for new prospects who want to upgrade their temporary black patch to the members-only red and white cross of cartoonish bones.
“This man brought people of different color together with a motorcycle,” Cesaretti beams. “He did it in a very simple, beautiful, naive way.”
The Chosen Few casually became the first integrated biker gang, and only later discovered what that required: choking honky bartenders who wouldn't serve their black members, allowing white riders to use the n-word (“You can't call somebody a brother and have stipulations”) and protectively escorting White Boy Art from their former clubhouse in South Central 30 miles to Azusa during the 1992 Rodney King riots.
Cesaretti, a photographer and producer who's worked with Michael Mann since the mid-'80s, discovered the Chosen Few on the freeway. “I told them to pull over,” he says. “I said, 'I like the way you guys look.' They had so much positive energy.” He straightens his back and mimes holding handlebars with the hauteur of an Aztec prince. They invited him over to their den on 108th Street, and he began to take pictures.
That was 25 years ago. In 2011, he decided to make a documentary, just as the Chosen Few were caught up in a LAPD sting operation. Eleven members were arrested for crimes as diverse as possession of a calf stunner, which the police classified as an “improvised gun,” and smuggling PCP in water jugs.
The irony, according to the club, was that they argued they'd cleaned up their corner of the 'hood. If you became a member, you had to forsake “all that gangbanging shit.” No more Crips or Bloods. Your only allegiance was to the Chosen Few. Right outside their clubhouse door, they listed the rules: No weapons, no fighting, no narcotics, no rags, no 40-ounces. Sure, there were shootings on their block. But there's shootings on every block. Who's to say there weren't fewer shootings on theirs? After all, the neighborhood knew that the Chosen Few would be furious if stray punks drew police to their parties. Still, they were stripped of their clubhouse and had to move east to Compton.
“They portray us as being violent,” veteran rider Big Draws sighs. “All those movies and stuff. It's more about brotherhood.”
Today, the Chosen Few has more than 2,000 members across 10 states plus France, Germany, Belgium and the Philippines. Any group that size has a couple bad apples. So it's important to them that Take None Give None tell their true story — something to counter the crazy crooks people see on Sons of Anarchy, a TV show they mention with an eye roll.
“The moon is perfect,” Cesaretti says, pausing between back-slapping hugs to gaze up at the sky. (The Chosen Few don't believe in handshakes.) The club had assembled a phalanx of bikes in front of the screen, but most decided they'd rather sit in chairs on the concrete or cluster to the sides with their buddies than straddle their wheels for the whole film. Where would you put the popcorn?
Ricks wasn't there. He was sick in bed, had been for a while, and his family was worried. Cesaretti brought him a copy of the film and claims the Father watched it with tears in his eyes. The gang cheered when Ricks showed up on screen. Then they cheered for one another. And when Cesaretti cut to the undercover cop who tried to bring down the club, the crowd booed. “Bastard!” shouted one man in the darkness. Hollered another, “Fuck you!” When the doc ended, instead of applause, people honked their horns.
“This film is not just about bikers,” Cesaretti says. “It's about the culture of South Central. Black culture and white culture, and the contrast with the police.”
Milling around the parking lot, the Chosen Few made the same point more bluntly. “When I got with a black girl, my brothers said, 'Once you go black you never go back,'” jokes Irish-born biker Celt. “I said 'Hell no! Once you go white, you're doing it right!'” His friends crack up. “That's the type of camaraderie we have here!” Celt grins. “We love everybody.”