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Megan Trudell


The crazy gang

(March 1995)

From Socialist Review, No. 184, March 1995, pp. 27–28.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

My Crazy Life (Mi Vida Loca)
Dir: Allison Anders

Gang warfare in the United States, especially in Los Angeles, has been a frequent source of media hysteria throughout the 1990s, most recently around the trial of rapper Snoop Doggy Dog for murder.

Blaming gangs for violence and crime in American society is used by politicians and police to whip up anti-crime fears and stoke up racism.

The reality is that blacks and Hispanics who are poor or working class in the United States are at the bottom of the pile in a deeply racist society. Unemployment is high, welfare practically non-existent. For many, the gang is the only means to live, earn money, and belong. Gangs are a direct response to the racism of the police and to the frustration of being outside the system.

The uprising in 1992 in Los Angeles marked the first serious truce between the major gangs, the Crips and the Bloods.

Allison Anders made her film shortly after the riots in Echo Park, a real Hispanic gang area, and to ensure authenticity got many of the real gang members to help with the script. Her film concentrates on the lives of the women in the barrio – who have to deal with bringing up children and coping with life after their men are killed or jailed, often by the age of 20.

The film is realistic up to a point. It is clear that these women are trapped with no magic way out of poverty and oppression. They struggle on welfare, are independent and strong, and every bit as tough as the men.

It is centrally concerned with how these women (some played by real gang members) respond to personal crises – losing lovers, raising kids – but the outside world obviously intervenes. One woman who gets out of prison plans a job in computers and quickly discovers that with no education, no previous employment and a prison record she has no chance.

Although the film does focus on the women in Echo Park, the men are by no means unsympathetic characters. Their stories are of brutal, often short, lives dominated by guns, drugs and cars. Most of them are sexist, which is to be expected, but the potential for equality between men and women is groped towards in at least one of the relationships.

My Crazy Life is funny and refreshing, the women are portrayed sympathetically as people struggling against oppression rather than falling victim to it. This is true both in personal terms – illustrated by one character, Giggles, deciding not to live with her lover because she doesn’t want to be dependent – and in terms of the state. Hatred of the police and the sense of invasion felt by the gang members when the cops enter the barrio is palpable.

However, the film is weak on racism, barely mentioning it, which is a surprise, not only because racism is a fact of life in the ghettos, but because the Hispanic cast were all stopped and searched as they were filming! It also glosses over the reality of ghetto life.

The emphasis on the personal lives of the women means that it does have a slightly sentimental tone at times, and it is not particularly hard hitting, but it is still pretty good, especially given that it was originally made for Home Box Office, an American cable television channel. Worth a look.

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Last updated: 6 November 2019