"Made in America" centers around the inception and subsequent development of the Los Angeles gang culture. Director Stacy Peralta immersed himself in the gang neighborhoods of L.A. and spent months getting to know the members themselves before even turning the camera on his subjects. Peralta begins with interviewing the founders of both the Bloods and the Crips (the most notorious of American gangs) to provide a background for how the gangs came about. As the documentary progresses, Peralta and narrator Forrest Whitaker push further into the current gang scene and allow the viewer a glimpse into what it's like in the highly volatile and bloody war.
I'm not completely sure when the war between the Bloods and the Crips took hold of America but pretty much everyone my age (27) was inundated with news on this phenomenon as children. Other gangs may have been just as prevalent in terms of membership and overall damage to society, but none of them had the impact of these two groups and that reach of influence spread across the country by the time I was in grade school. When I was in the third grade I knew more about the Bloods and the Crips than I did about the American system of government. We had school programs about the dangers not just of gangs but of the Bloods and the Crips specifically on what seemed like a weekly basis. By high school that influence seemed to have waned a bit but the lasting impression of the gang lifestyle was left in my psyche so you can imagine my interest in "Made in America."
Unfortunately, "Made in America" is a flawed documentary. As opposed to "Bigger Stronger Faster" which gave time to both sides of the argument, "MIA" works entirely from the perspective of the gang members without any regard to what other opinions might be. That is to say, if you watch "MIA", prepare for a steady stream of blame directed at the White Man and the government. Right or wrong, the opinion of the founders of the Bloods and Crips would have you believe that the formation of their gangs was the result of extreme prejudice and the only solution they had at the time. The other side of that argument is never presented. In addition, we get no delving into the money side of the gang war, the drugs and guns, which would have been an extremely interesting segment.
Still, "MIA" does provide a valuable insight that we rarely get and the fact that Peralta was able to get this amount of access is incredible. More often than not, real life looks at gang members feature covered faces and auto-tuned voices whereas "MIA" gets you up close and personal with the gang leaders. The increased level of violence and brutality that gangs have seen over the decades was of particular interest. When originally founded, the L.A. gangs served as a sort of social club for black youths who had nowhere else to turn. The fights between the gangs usually involved pugilism and rarely resulted in a serious injury or fatality. The introduction of guns into this battle, however, forever changed the face of the rivalry and pushed the gang war into the American consciousness. It is a sobering and cautionary piece of storytelling. Peralta puts the finishing touches on "MIA" by giving the mothers of gang violence victims some face time and allowing the impact of such a senseless and futile battle to sink in. "Made in America" is not a great documentary and could have given us more, but it is nonetheless, it illustrates a compelling and significant history.