“Freeway: Crack In the System” Screening at Maysles with Afrika Bambaataa
Freeway: Crack In The System
(U.S. Theatrical Premiere Run, Director’s Cut)
Marc Levin, 2015, 103 min
Freeway: Crack In The System tells the true story behind the crack scourge, featuring exclusive interviews with characters who lived it. Their stories reveal a crack in the system that implicates the centers of power in our government, their mass incarceration policies and militarization of police, the spread of gangs and guns, and the loss of entire generations to the war on drugs. At the center of the story stands the reformed King of Crack, Freeway Rick Ross, once just a clever kid from South Central with dreams of becoming the next tennis great and his eyes fixed on the good life. Freeway Rick-not to be confused with the rapper, Rick Ross, who took his name and identity-built a drug empire that spread crack cocaine across the country, ruining millions of lives but profoundly influencing street culture in its wake. The stories of Rick and his “Freeway Boys” inspired the lyrics of N.W.A., Above The Law, and Mix Master Spade, as well as the worlds portrayed in films and video games that dramatize the drug trade.
Throughout the film are interviews with Freeway Rick and his crew, including his mother Anne Ross, former girlfriend and drug dealer Marilyn Stubblefield, and former dealers Cornell Ward, Ollie Newell, and Norman Tillman. For the first time, we hear from a key Nicaraguan trafficker, Julio Zavala, who worked with the CIA-backed Contras. Former LA Sheriffs Deputy in the Narcotics Unit, Roberto Juarez, and top undercover DEA agent, Mike Levine, tell of the devastating spread of crack and the hunt for Freeway Rick and his crew. More so, they reveal the government complicity and police corruption behind the scenes during the crack era. Hearings on Capitol Hill led by Senator Kerry investigated the shocking connection between the CIA and the influx of cocaine during the Reagan/Bush administration. At the same time, harsh new laws sent thousands of young men to prison for years with little chance for rehabilitation.
Not until the fateful meeting between an unlikely source, Coral Baca, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News, did the full story, “Dark Alliance,” come to light. The resulting controversy was explosive, especially in the African American community. At first celebrated as a hero, Webb soon found himself discredited by major media, which led his paper to back away from the story, ultimately destroying his career and leading to his untimely death. His story is featured in the Focus Features fiction film, “Kill the Messenger,” starring Jeremy Renner, which came out this past fall. Quincy Jones, III conducted the last major interview with Gary Webb just days before his death, which is featured for the first time in Freeway: Crack in the System. Remaining at the center of it all, Freeway Rick describes learning to read in prison, one phonic at a time while serving his life sentence, until he could read the law books that would set him free. Now, he goes to schools and juvenile detention facilities to talk with students and inmates about the importance of literacy. As he works to take back his life, he is also attempting to take back his name from Rick Ross the rapper, who has made millions glamorizing street life and the drug trade.