Crack: cocaine, corruption & conspiracy

Netflix documentary Crack: Cocaine, Corruption and Conspiracy is a lively and ambitious documentary from veteran director Stanley Nelson, a multiple Emmy winner (Freedom Riders) who helmed the excellent 30 for 30 saga about Michael Vick. His latest bridges the rise of the highly addictive drug in the 1980s with today’s current socio-political climate — notably, he includes a video of Ronald Reagan saying he wants to lớn “make America great again” at the 1980 Republican National Convention, và a snippet of a police officer testifying that cops protect each other with the “blue wall of silence.” Consider our interest triggered.


The Gist: “I lost everything.” Those are the words of a recovering crack addict whose story will be revisited intermittently throughout the documentary. She’s a sản phẩm of the 1980s, the decade in which crack cocaine is a significant piece of the historical narrative — social, political, personal. The story begins with clips of Michael Douglas saying “Greed is good” và Al Pacino hoovering line after line of cocaine off his desk (notably, right before he introduces people khổng lồ his “little friend”). The powdery drug was considered an expensive luxury for the upper class; meanwhile, Reagan’s economic agenda disenfranchised the lower economic class, with unemployment numbers alarmingly high less than two years into his presidency.

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We see a video of comedian Richard Pryor on stage, making light of how he infamously burned himself while freebasing crack cocaine. That was one of the general public’s first introductions to lớn the substance, a chemically altered iteration of cocaine that soon proved to be an insanely lucrative business for dealers. Jawdropping archival footage: Two men count stacks of cash, lớn $150,000, then $500,000; they talk about throwing away the $1 bills before deciding maybe they should “give it to the poor.” Why was it so lucrative? It was insanely addictive for users. A neuroscientist explains how, unlike snorted cocaine or smoked substances, crack goes directly to the brain, resulting in an immediate euphoria & an insatiable craving for more. Grainy archival footage of a man interviewed about the effects of smoking crack: “I can get up from here now & walk to lớn the moon,” he says.

But we all know this isn’t a breezy story good for a few headshaking laughs. Nelson interviews scientists, activists, experts & a bevy of former users and dealers, who piece together how crack became a catalyst for devastation of black communities in America. The War on Drugs was born, an instance of staggering hypocrisy in light of the U.S. Government’s unwritten policy lớn blatantly look the other way when smugglers were bringing drugs into the country as a side effect of the Iran-Contra deal (and subsequent scandal). Warring dealers shot up the streets with machine guns. Black men were incarcerated in staggering numbers. đen women were frequently depicted in the media as addicts & neglectful mothers. Misinformation spread like wildfire — about the almost-nonexistent phenomenon about “crack babies,” that crack was a drug used by inner-city blacks when two-thirds of users were white.Nancy Reagan told kids across the country khổng lồ “Just say no.” Would-be basketball superstar Len Bias died. Police looked the other way for a while, but once Officer Edward Byrne was killed by a dealer, they started cracking down hard. Lives were destroyed by addiction and the American government’s policy of imprisoning addicts instead of helping them. This is how crack became weaved into the tapestry of American culture.

Photo: Netflix

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: This doc would make a good companion piece for Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic or the Tom Cruise-as-drug-smuggler saga American Made.


Performance Worth Watching: Former drug dealer Tonia “Ms. Tee” Taylor shares the story of her being shot in the back, the bullet exiting through her chest, then hailing a cab lớn go khổng lồ the hospital. She says she probably would have died if she’d just stayed on the ground. She also says such toughness was simply the type of attitude she needed to lớn project in order lớn maintain her hardcore drug-dealer cred.

Memorable Dialogue: In one word, former homicide detective Mitch Credle’s slashes apart the infamous Just Say No campaign: “Please.”

Sex & Skin: None.

Our Take: Crack is a crisply edited, highly watchable và reasonably informative catch-all doc. Nelson’s selection of talking heads is inspired; he avoids stocking the narrative with the boilerplate documentary selection of objective voices analyzing và contextualizing the topic. The film’s most compelling commentators are those of the former dealers and addicts — compelling enough that we want lớn know more about them. How did the addicts recover? Did the dealers get out of the business unscathed, or did they get busted? vì chưng they still have some of their ill-gotten monetary gains? What are their lives like now? Nelson misses an opportunity to lớn further humanize his characters by observing them at their current jobs và homes instead of propping them in a chair và having them share anecdotes. They’re provocative & arresting anecdotes, yes, but one feels lượt thích the entire film could be about these people instead of an encyclopedia entry summarizing its subject. (It might also be controversial for some, considering how it solicits empathy for violent dealers, who are presumably reformed, or else they likely wouldn’t agree lớn participate.)

So maybe there’s a better movie — or better yet, an in-depth series — khổng lồ be made about crack. But as it stands, it’s a solid doc, providing valuable context for younger audiences who didn’t live through the 1980s, connecting the events from then lớn the socio-political situations we’re experiencing now. It’s strongest when it frames the drug’s impact along the lines of race, illuminating its impact on the đen community, specifically how it was portrayed in the media and pop culture. Lingering in the margins is some insight on institutional racism; it could use more detail & incisive language while addressing the topic, but it’s at least present, & cements the film as worthwhile và modestly revelatory.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Crack: Cocaine, Corruption and Conspiracy isn’t the ultimate, be-all/end-all documentary on the subject, but it’s nevertheless worth a watch.