FEATURE: Hollywood snubs movie depicting how US authorities contributed to the crack & cocaine epidemics, harming urban communities

January 19, 2015

At its very best journalism manifests as a friend, a catalyst for truth, knowledge and change. At its very worst journalism manifests as a foe, a fearmonger that gleefully enjoys inciting panic, anxiety and mass hysteria. Gary Webb, was a reporter that many would have categorized as the first description. Webb sought to uncover the origin of the 1980s crack epidemic and later found US involvement and a larger conspiracy that attributed to the dismantling of Black and Latino urban communities. Webb’s finding enjoyed brief success only to give way to the unraveling of his career and reputation. Those who once supported him denounced his credibility and he later was found dead with 2 gunshot wounds to head, the death declared a suicide and his career shrouded in shame. In late 2014 – ‘Kill the Messenger’, a film released by Focus Features on Gary Webb and his journey to shed light on the CIA’s knowledge and allowance of the smuggling of cocaine into the United States, featuring Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner, Michael K Williams, Ray Liotta and Oliver Platt. With a strong, capable cast, engaging storyline and even support from critics – why don’t you know about this film?

By Moeima Dukuly, AFROPUNK Contributor 

The last few months of 2014 exposed scandal in Hollywood that really only provided proof of what many have known all along – Hollywood’s tendency for callous perceptions. Studio executives and producers like Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin’s “racially insensitive” (cough, disgusting and inflammatory) remarks are a tiny sliver into mindsets behind what gets a movie produced and distributed for your viewing pleasure. Kill the Messenger lacked support from Focus Features (a division of Universal Pictures) in terms of promotion and marketing and despite an amazing cast, critical acclaim and decent buzz when released on October 10 2014. By November 15 it was only was available in 18 theaters nationwide. Considering Hollywood’s lust for making money – why no support for a film that has all the characteristics of a winner? Without looking to foreign countries like North Korea or France, is this not a shining example of what happens when free press poses a “national threat”?

(b&w images: Eugene Richards)

What is a bigger threat to the establishments of America than a generation of potent, knowledgeable people of color? For a moment, witness the occurrences of a promising generation: the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties, the collective fist of the Black Panther Party, the slogan “Black is Beautiful” chanted from coast to coast. Witness the dismemberment: urban neighborhoods swallowed up, giving way to zombie like waves of catastrophe where mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers buckled to the disease that was the crack epidemic of the late seventies to eighties. People who once belonged to themselves and loved ones now belong to a cheaper, highly addictive form of cocaine that swept the nation, inciting violent crime and resulting in a Congressional law (The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986) passed during the Reagan administration that put harsh sentencing into play: 5 grams of crack cocaine mandated the same sentencing for 500 grams of powdered cocaine. A powerful shift that, by the mid nineties, contributed to nearly tripling the correctional population, from what it was in the mid-eighties. Crack fed the demons of death, destruction and imprisonment. Demons that not only destroyed Black and Latino neighborhoods, but caused familial rifts that are still felt by today’s millennial generation.

(mural in this polaroid image is by Keith Haring)

That same generation today is inciting change and waking people up to a life of suppression that can no longer be accepted. Arming ourselves with and spreading that truth, is essential so history cannot repeat itself. Support’s petition to re-release this film but at the very least expose and bear witness to acts that helped to sculpt the supposed black ‘experience’ we know today. Let the truth be the light and never stop questioning… everything.