'Crackheads' Documentary Has Serious Message

A little-known DVD called Crackheads Gone Wild may seem prankish or cruel, but commentator Jimi Izrael says the film may be fitting as a gruesome public service announcement.

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ED GORDON, host:

What's the craziest thing you've ever done for crack? That's the question posed to homeless addicts in a little-known DVD called Crackheads Gone Wild. And while the film title may come off as prankish or even cruel, commentator Jimi Izrael says the message it sends is serious.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Columnist, AOL Black Voices): There is a DVD called Crackheads Gone Wild being sold on the Internet and select spots in the hood. It's caught the attention of pundits in some news circles, and to date has sold over 65,000 copies, netting over a quarter of a million dollars.

Now, I happen to have a copy, as I frequent an (unintelligible) hood spot that keeps all my necessaries in stock. You know, mixed tapes, incense, Fred Sanford T-shirts, and hood DVDs, because, you know, I can't find that stuff at the mall.

Crackheads Gone Wild is one of the growing genres of hood films made for the hood, by the hood. It features the exploits of Crypt(ph), Zookeeper(ph), DD(ph), and a cavalcade of crack fiends answering the musical question, what's the craziest thing you've ever done for crack?

Now, let's get this disclaimer out of the way.

(Soundbite of throat clearing)

Mr. IZRAEL: Substance abuse is no laughing matter, but it's hard to deny the entertainment value of a crackhead doing the Harlem Shake, not to mention the one crack couple caught outside in flagrante delicto. And they give an astonishingly insightful thesis on the underground economy without missing a stroke. Now you'll never see that on Dateline.

It would be easy to dismiss this as just another in the ever-growing collection of extreme DVDs, where college students pay homeless people to commit outrageous acts of violence and antisocial behavior. But Crackheads is more a PSA unlike any you've ever seen. As a reporter that has interviewed crackheads myself, I can say that this is the realist, necessarily grittiest portrayal of crack life on film - Sam Jackson's Gator notwithstanding.

This is as close as any of us wants to come to understanding what it means to live with crack addiction. This DVD documents the folly of mixing poverty with drugs like 60 Minutes never could. As hard as it is to watch, I have to recommend it as required viewing in any thorough discussion about drugs. What it does is allow people to tell stories that would scare anybody straight, unfiltered by pundits with pie charts and expert panelists.

Crack hit hard the first time around in the late '80s. Crackheads Gone Wild is evidence that it's returning harder than ever. The producers should consider editing a version of this must-see DVD for use by parents and in classrooms. The language, graphic sex scenes, nudity, and drug usage preclude this version from being a high school health class pick. Critics of the DVD say it exploits the drug addicted. They missed the point.

Rather than trying to illustrate your brain on drugs, the unseen host interviews real people as they talk about the early days when crack hit the inner city, tell tales of their first hit, and share stories about snatching crack pipes from the hands of dead friends. There's a tour of a crack house and an in-depth interview with a crack-addicted prostitute.

Yes, you've seen those before, but not like this. As hard as it is to watch, I have to recommend it as required viewing in any thorough discussion about drugs.

The title is decidedly whimsical, but Crackheads is only funny for about the first 15 minutes before it descends into the rawest anti-drug documentary you have ever seen.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: Jimi Izrael is a columnist for the Web site AOL Black Voices.

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