Directed by: Shan Nicholson
New York from the late 60s until mid-70s was ruled by rival gangs. Disfranchised from the promise of the ‘American dream’ and losing faith in the civil rights movement, these gangs operated with unfocused rage, law enforcement gave up on them and they made the rules.
Shan Nicholson’s Rubble Kings chronicles life during this time and features interviews with key members of the gangs and innovators from the early days of the hip-hop movement.
Most people’s knowledge of this time comes from the film The Warriors, which seems ridiculous as it was such an important time in 20th century history. At only 70mins the documentary doesn’t go really deep into the history of this time, and instead of discussing the complex issues that surrounded the rise of gang culture it focuses on the people involved.Problems like the drug culture and racial issues that underpinned a lot of the tension are swept over quickly and what Rubble Kings ends up being is a slice of life type story from the point of view of a few individuals. It mentions many gangs but focuses on Ghetto Brothers, the South Bronx crew that was mostly Puerto Rican affiliation.
The main focus point of the documentary is the murder of a Ghetto Brothers member; Bronx drug counsellor Cornell “Black Benji” Benjamin joined the Ghetto Brothers with the intention of negotiating peace between the gangs but was killed. The murder set off a number of unusual events that finally brought peace to the streets of New York.
Each speaker within the documentary talks with so much passion that you can’t help but get engrossed in their stories. It does feel rushed though and some pretty shocking truths are brushed over and underplayed. It’s a very interesting documentary about an iconic era of youth culture but the final third of the film is hurried, concluding with a look at the birth of hip-hop that doesn’t dig deep enough to make it feel relevant.
Overall, Rubble Kings is an engaging documentary that scratches the surface of an unexplored piece of history. The street gangs featured in the film will be further explored in Baz Luhrmann and Shawn Ryan’s original Netflix series later this year.
Rubble Kings is released on DVD on 8 February 2016