The streets of LA are filled with various gangs and gang members. While the entire nation is well aware of this, and that these gangsters also live in low-income communities, much fewer people ever thing about the reasons why gangs are so prevalent (because they gave many poor and fatherless boys a sense of community and belonging), or why they came to be in the first place (to protect individuals and groups from police violence). Regardless of the history, however, gangs and gang violence have consumed the lives of many young people, including gang members themselves. South Central, based on the novel CRIPS by Donald Bakeer, is a riveting drama about such a young man, and his journey to definine “family” on his own terms.
Bobby Johnson (Glenn Plummer), a member of the gang Hoover Street Deuces, or “Deuce”, has a girlfriend who’s recently given birth and is excited be paroled and meet his new son. Bobby and his best friend Ray Ray (Byron Keith Minns), the OGs of the gang, never had fathers; none of the Deuces did. Though he has the best of intentions with being a new father, things get out of hand when a turf war with a rival gang (and the knowledge that his girlfriend, Carole (LaRita Shelby), is addicted to heroin provided by the gang’s leader) leads to murder and Bobby is eventually sent back to prison. Facing 10 years, Bobby decides without hesitation to not cooperate with the police and be loyal to Deuce first.
As Bobby becomes stronger mentally, and physically, in prison, Carole spirals deeper into addiction, and his fatherless son, Jimmie (Christian Coleman), is ripe to be exploited by Ray Ray, who inducts Jimmy into gang life by having him steal car stereos. When Bobby gets word in prison that his son is critically injured in service to Ray Ray, he renounces Deuce and becomes of student of Islam when the Muslim group’s leader, Ali (Carl Lumbly), saves him from being attacked by White supremacists. Bobby has a spiritual awakening and makes up his mind to do right by his son when he is released, but soon realizes that leaving prison is much easier than escaping gang life.
Not every decision made can be unmade. Most choices have long-lasting consequences and have the capacity to have far-reaching consequences for both ourselves and our loved ones. South Central is painful yet beautiful in how unapologetically honest it is in dealing with the underlying pain, loneliness, fear, and anger that is the cornerstone of gang affiliation, and how the strength of a real family bond based on love and compassion can heal the trauma of the past. Bobby’s desire to give his son a better life than he had, even though he has no reference point for what “better” is, is an incredibly touching display of fatherly love. South Central is a reminder that being a good parent isn’t about how wealthy or smart someone is, but about how willing they are to put their children first, always.
I give this one 5 stars.