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An appreciation of the Spike Lee movie Sucker Free City

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Of the maybe five or six movies directed by Spike Lee I've watched, this is miles-away my fave; although, I have to admit this is partly due to the movie's main location being Hunters Point in 1974 and I've lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area since 1963.   And, it's partly due to the fact I could understand almost 100% of the movie's dialog.  But, mainly it's due to the fact that this is an excellent movie.

Inside Man People (2007), by jorgempf at Flickr Commons
  (Spike Lee is pictured in the lower right corner.)

I remember reading L.B.T.E.S. (Long Before the End Started - on 9/11) that countries with just two cultures (supposedly like the U.S., with its white and African-American cultures) and countries with many cultures (supposedly like the U.S.S.R.) are less stable politically than countries with more than two but less than many cultures (supposedly like most modern European nations).  

And I remember thinking how centuries of slavery in America effectively completely destroyed the African component of black Americans' culture, so America hasn't really had the postulated two cultures over the last one-hundred years; and, however true the thesis about instability and multiple cultures may be, you can't use America as an example of an unstable two-culture country.  For purposes of the present, America has always been a one-culture country.

After realizing this, I got to thinking about how the least assimilated post-Reagan African-Americans ("street" black people) had developed a language that was basically unintelligible to American whites - just as unintelligible as Spanish or any other non-English language - and I realized that this development followed understandably enough from the fact African culture has been effectively destroyed in America.

But this understanding made me no more receptive to the new language that post-Reagan, street African-Americans used, and the Spike Lee movies I saw prior to Sucker Free City all required more familiarity with the street African-American language than I'd had time to acquire.  However, Sucker Free City is approximately one-third "white" and the DVD's subtitles are excellent, so at last I've been able to experience a Spike Lee movie almost completely like it should be experienced -- with full comprehension.

To repeat: this is a very good movie.

Quoting from Wikipedia's synopsis of Sucker Free City: "The film follows three young men as they are drawn into lives of crime.  Nick {a white, Ben Crowley} uses his entry-level corporate job to commit credit card fraud and deals drugs on the side.  K-Luv {Anthony Mackie} is a member of the "V-Dubs" (Visitation Valley Mafia), an African-American street gang. Lincoln {Ken Leung} is a rising figure in the Chinese Mafia.  Gentrification forces Nick's family to move out of their home in the Mission District into Hunter's Point where they are harassed by the V-Dubs. K-Luv's side business of selling bootleg compact discs leads him to enlist Nick's help to bootleg CDs and to negotiate a truce with Lincoln. Lincoln conducts an affair with his boss' daughter Angela {T.V. Carpio}, a Stanford student engaged to a medical student classmate."

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The DVD-movie is a shortening of a series planned for TV, and it really moves.   Still and all, it holds together extremely well. The high-point of the threatened violence for me was a confrontation between the V-Dubs and the Chinese Mafia on a basketball court in Chinatown in San Francisco.

Sucker Free City DVD (2004), by Wikipedia
  (From left to right: Ken Leung, Darris Love, and Ben Crowley.)

In this scene on a basketball court, Anthony Mackey explains the facts of life to Ken Leung, to wit, that any gang war fought between the Chinese Mafia and the V-Dubs will be fought in Chinatown, not in Hunters Point; or impliedly, H.P. is already a waste land, whereas Chinatown depends on tourists and "business as usual" and would be enormously adversely impacted by a gang war while H.P. would be essentially unaffected.   Leung gets the point: compared to street African-Americans, Chinatown Chinese are, like, liquor-running Italians during Prohibition, when American protestant provincialism confined them to small geographical areas within large American cities.

Anthony Mackie (2008), by Wikipedia

The high point of the movie's actual violence, for me, was the fatal confrontation between Ben Crowley and Darris Love in a public bathroom; although a previous, surprise execution of an African-American child was also extremely chilling.

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Darris Love (2010), by Wikipedia

Do see this movie.   It's very good and it's available at Netflix.   It does not disappoint.  


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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)

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