Cle Sloan: Color Codes

  In 1986, Dennis Hopper’s Colors depicted gang violence in gripping terms that made people far removed from south and eastern Los Angeles see the microcosm of the ghetto. Although it introduced the world to today’s stars Don Cheadle and Damon Wayans, the film bent to fit the heartstrings of a Hollywood audience. Cle Sloan […]


In 1986, Dennis Hopper’s Colors depicted gang violence in gripping terms that made people far removed from south and eastern Los Angeles see the microcosm of the ghetto. Although it introduced the world to today’s stars Don Cheadle and Damon Wayans, the film bent to fit the heartstrings of a Hollywood audience. Cle Sloan may be in Hollywood, but he’s hardly of the stardust. Instead, the Athens Park Blood gang-member got his starts calling shots and accumulating stripes in the streets of Watts. This character came to surface on the screen from Sloan’s charged and real life role in Training Day. Now a successful actor, Sloan produced Bastards of the Party for HBO. This documentary film motions towards armistice from Crips and Bloods by celebrating their rich histories in a city which may have pitted them against one another. With teary-eyed gangsters confessing their emotions and convictions on camera, the film has become the talk of the community. Upon its release, we spoke to Cle Sloan on his intentions and the state of the union in Los Angeles. I’m stunned. Your film is very powerful. You mention it a bit in the film, but what was the specific point that led you to making Bastards of the Party?Cle Sloan: After I started to learn the history, I started to get obsessed with it. I’m a very passionate person, an extremist – even if I’m dealing with negativity or positive stuff. So I started learning the history, and I started talking to my homies about it everyday. They basically said, “We’re tired of you talking about this, go out and do something. Write a book or something.” My ongoing joke is, I said, “I ain’t gonna write a book ‘cause I know y’all ain’t gonna read it.” So I thought the easiest way to do it for my homies was to put it on film. That was a natural segué for me, ‘cause I was a student of film and loved the whole process of film. About 10 minutes into the film, you look at the camera dead-on and admit to destroying your community for a number of years. That kind of accountability and sincerity is something that people will see and appreciate. How hard is it for you to look at millions of people and admit something like that? Cle Sloan: You know man, I’m a pretty high-profile cat, unfortunately, out here in these L.A. streets, and my hands are dirty. I’ve been involved with what I call participation, I’ve condoned a lot of stuff I shouldn’t have condoned, I’ve green-lighted people I probably shouldn’t have, and…it wears on you after a while. You walk around with layers and layers of semi-guilt on some of the stuff you did. As you get older, you start looking back on some of the stuff. People start telling you the incidents, and it crushes you. I had a homie tell me he dropped out of school ‘cause of me. I didn’t understand it. There’s so many stories like that I hear about stuff I did, and I just really wanted to come clean. I’ve been doing some terrible stuff and I want to stop. If I want it to stop, then I’ve got to come clean about my participation. This film is about criticism and self-criticisms – all the way around. You’ve got Flipside in the film speaking on behalf of the Bounty Hunter Bloods, who some of us may recognize as a rapper from the ‘90s group O.F.T.B. Hip-Hop and gangs have such an interesting relationship. Being somebody of your figure, have gangs made Hip-Hop worse, or has Hip-Hop made gangs worse? Cle Sloan: I think it’s a little bit of both, man. That’s another reason why I wanted to do the film, for the sobering effect. Now it’s glamorized and it’s spreading across the country. Every time I get off a plane, I’m running into a Blood or a Crip, and it really saddens me, man. They are the first generation of Bloods in their city. That’s setting up for years and years of self-destruction to come about, and it saddens me. I wanted to come with the film as a sobering effect of what things is about. It’s like what [one of the interviewed gang members] says, “Bangin’ ain’t a lifestyle, it’s a death-style.” In no way can I blame Hip-Hop for the violence or makin’ people join gangs – it’s definitely not to that extent. But I will say, with every movement, positive or negative, there’s always a musical background. In the positive sense, when Black Liberation came about, James Brown was the musical movement to go along with the political movement. That got everybody goin’. In the same sense, that negative effect also. Me, when I was out there bangin’ real hardcore, of course I’d put on an N.W.A. album. You’re hearing these words put to music as you’re livin’ that life, it enhances it and gives confirmation that what you’re doing is [cool]. Music solidifies it. What do you forecast will be the reaction from your peers or former peers when this film gets its exposure through HBO? Cle Sloan: Most of my peers have seen it already. I made sure got in the street and had grassroots screening with homies, with Crips, with Bloods, I called it my L.A. snip-test. I had so-called enemies sitting in the same theaters watching it, and after it, it was all [good]. We sat around and talked for hours after. Out here, everything is based on climate. Right now, the climate is right for change. So many of us are dying out here; we’re getting weaker and weaker. We’ve got a whole other movement that’s pushing us right out of the city, basically. We realize we have to come to come together or we’re gonna perish; it’s a wrap for us out here. Bastards of the Party will help define that. It was perfect timing that the film comes out, because it’s what everybody was saying and thinking, and now the film comes out to put it all in motion. Now we can sit and rally around this film, because it ties us into the Black Liberation Movement, which is empowering for Crips and Bloods. Now we have an explanation for why some of these things got started. Out of the Black Panther Party, Crips was born. Community Revolutionary Interparty Services or Continue the Revolution In Progress [acronyms for “CRIP”]. I wanted to make that connection to let the brothers that’s coming behind us that listen, we came from [this rich history]. The West is the cornerstone for revolution, and that’s how it all came about Do you see Crips and Bloods existing in 50 years with having a greater sense of self? Or should we get rid of these labels altogether? Cle Sloan: For me, I just think all we need to do is change the direction and change the energy. What I see now is spreading. It’s getting weaker [in Los Angeles], but it’s getting stronger all across the nation. The police have taken us down and taken us out left and right out here. They come in with the gang injunctions and millions and millions of dollars to get rid of us here. Eventually, it’s gonna happen. But if you look across America, this whole new phenomena of new gang members are popping up everywhere – Crips and Bloods. If we can change the direction into something positive or some type of vanguard for your neighborhood or your community, I think it could be a great thing. Right now, you can’t say too many positive things about gangs. In the future, I don’t think you’ll be able to either. In the next 10 or 15 years, Crips and Bloods are still gonna be existing. I don’t know what the future holds, it’s pretty scary. Optimistically, based on the language and based on the climate that’s going on out here in L.A., brothers are ready to stop and brothers are trying to come together. One of the most powerful moments in cinematography in recent years, in my opinion, is in Training Day where your character compassionately gave Ethan Hawke’s character his pass. We talk about compassion in Bastards of the Party. In your experiences from those days of dirt, how often did you see compassion from gangs for people who weren’t affiliated? Cle Sloan: We have a lot compassion, man. Brother pray, brothers are spiritual, and brothers are bangin’. I see it everyday. It’s like we know what we’re doing it wrong, but this war’s been goin’ on so long before we got here. And if you live in a particular neighborhood, you kind of get sucked up into it. We gotta defend yourselves. You’ve got a system that doesn’t prosecute brothers when they do things to other brothers in hopes of keeping it going on and on and on, and it works. If a man did something to me or one of my people, and now I’m seeing him ride up and down the street, we become judge, jury, and God. That’s pretty much what’s going on. We totally have compassion. We have compassion for the innocent victims that’s caught in the crossfire. Most brothers I know gotta make themselves hard and desensitize themselves from a lot of this stuff, but everybody definitely has compassion. The best way to describe it is God has my heart, but sometimes the devil has you by the balls. This war’s been going on since 1969, and no American agency has stepped in and tried to make us sit down and come to terms about our difference. Jesse Jackson goes all over the world, bringing hostages back, having the Jews sit down with the Palestinians – that’s a great thing, but we need that right here.