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Shan Nicholson’s gang-life beauty Rubble Kings, an impassioned examination of New York’s gang culture of the late 1970s, isn’t just a fascinating piece of urban history. It’s also a challenge to common assumptions about that culture, and a testament to the power of organization within a community. Better still, Nicholson accomplishes all this without preachiness — seriously, Rubble Kings makes kind, helpful streetgangs look as badass as any other sort.
The film centers on the Bronx’s do-gooding Ghetto Brothers, who were less interested in fighting than in political engagement, encouraging kids in school, helping people get off smack, and throwing glorious block parties built around their Latin-funk band. The filmmakers’ recent interviews are often funny and always revealing, but it’s the archival footage that is the true revelation, especially that of a gangland peace summit called by the Ghetto Brothers after a notorious murder. Here is a vital record of something that’s still all too rare in our media culture: real black youth speaking their hearts and minds, without a condemnatory Bill O’Reilly type in sight. (John Leguizamo narrates.)
Of course, the vintage cityscapes and proto-hip-hop milieu stand as a serious allurement. Among the marvelous gang names: Black Assassins, Savage Skulls, Harlem Turks, Black Spades, and the Assassinators, because apparently mere Assassins wouldn’t have been badass enough. And here’s the Post headline after the conference: “Bronx Gangs Cool It.”
Directed by Shan Nicholson
Opens June 19, AMC Empire 25