Released: 11th January
Seen: 12th January
In the 1980s, the decade of greed and excess, the drug of choice was cocaine. The white powder that filled the noses of everybody who was anybody was almost a status symbol, you can’t tell a story about the 80s without someone at some point saying “And then we did some coke” because it was that ubiquitous. Of course, like all things, there was inevitably a cheaper and more effective version available known as crack. Crack cocaine was instantly deemed the worst thing you could do, and this documentary points out the consequences of that.
Through a series of interviews with experts, lawmakers, people from the community and former users/dealers the story of the crack epidemic is laid out in heartbreaking detail. From the wars in the streets that would end up with people hiding in their homes, to wars overseas that used crack as one of the tools, it reveals the devastation the drug left in its wake. It also points out that other harsh reality that comes with all drug wars… you know, the reality of how it disproportionately hurts communities of colour.
Some of the details are things you might’ve heard before, like how Bush Sr’s iconic “Crack sold in front of the White House” speech was only possible because of a setup by police, or how the CIA was in part responsible for the spread of the drug. The stories about the era itself and how crack was so widespread are shocking but the real devastation comes when the former users start telling their stories and ponder aloud about how they were denied help when they clearly needed it.
It also hammers home the unforgivable truth that the crackdown on crack was almost scientifically targeted at the black community, there’s one big statistic about how disproportionate the arrests between black and white crack users was, which was even more outrageous than I expected. There’s a lot of moments in this documentary where they’ll reveal some detail about just how differently certain groups were treated and even now, in a “post-insurrectionist assault on the capitol” world, it’s still shocking to see how differently black people were treated.
Also, yes, the film touches on a lot of the anti-drug programs that went on. From pointing out the uselessness of the Just Say No campaign, to the cruelty of the media’s portrayal of people using the drug (which often included outright lies regarding what a crack user would do) and even some of the ways they tried to teach children how to avoid Drugs. if you’ve never been exposed to The Flintstone Kids that had Michael Jackson singing a parody of Beat It about not using drugs… well, I’ve got you covered here but it’s also in the movie. Now, is that song as incredibly of it’s era as the Wonderful Ways To Say No song from the Cartoon All Stars special (which is never brought up in the movie)? No, but it’s close
It does have a habit of gliding by as quickly as possible, in part because they’re covering a full decade and have a lot of information to get through but it almost feels like we could’ve had more. I would’ve happily (OK not happily, this documentary can be downright depressing at times) watched a 2-hour version of this movie and learned even more because we need to make sure that we never let devastation like this happen again.
Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy is an important documentary about a subject we really don’t talk about enough and certainly haven’t ever dealt with adequately. It’s confronting, uncomfortable, shocking and also essential viewing for anyone with even a tiny hope of learning from history, just so we can ensure that we don’t repeat it.