An Insider’s Look at the ‘Hood : Television: A former gang member and two of his friends have taped an unusual glimpse of life in South-Central L.A. for the ABC newsmagazine ‘Day One.’
Television viewers throughout the country will get an unusual glimpse of life in South-Central Los Angeles on Sunday night, through the eyes of a former gang member who served as the producer-correspondent for a 22-minute report on the ABC newsmagazine “Day One.”
In the first of what “Day One” producers hope will be a recurring series of pieces made by amateurs, the network provided John Payne and two friends with High-8 video cameras over five months to report on life in their neighborhood. The result, edited from more than 50 hours of tape, will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Sunday with Payne, 29, providing the voice-over narration.
“My name is John Payne, a.k.a. Apollo,” he says at the beginning. “I’m a former gang leader. You should know that I have a prison record. I’m not proud of it. But in California, one out of every three black men my age has a record of some kind. So consider me normal. . . .
“There are parts of your country that you don’t even really know. This is an invitation to a place we call ‘The Jungle.’ It used to be called ‘The Jungle’ because of its trees. But ‘The Jungle’ today was made by man. After the riots and uprising last spring, the media said Los Angeles was back to normal. For most of us in ‘The Jungle’ in South-Central Los Angeles, normal is the problem.”
What is striking about the piece are the images of daily life that are rarely seen on network television. Some men are shown doing drugs, and others point out healed stab-wounds as matter-of-factly as if there were tattoos. But there is also grim humor and vitality in the relationships; raw, friendly banter at John’s Auto Center, where the owner is Korean, and concern: Kalicote, who lost his legs after a gang battle, tries to get Apollo’s younger cousin, Li’l Fila, to stop selling drugs so he can pursue his talent as a rap singer.
In one chilling scene, Apollo is arrested for arson (a charge that he says was later dropped) by policemen who apparently do not believe that he did not set his own car afire. “He treated me like a suspect from the start,” Apollo says angrily on the tape. But he adds, “The police are afraid, too. . . . It’s hard to tell the difference between the LAPD and rival gangs, except the LAPD has more ways to mess with you.”
“Day One” executive producer Tom Yellin said that the idea of the piece--and others like it that he hopes to do--"is to tell a story ‘from the inside out.’ By virtue of who he is, we think that Apollo takes the audience into South-Central and gets a story that is likely to be different from what white people working for TV networks are likely to get. We view Apollo more as a guide than as a journalist.”
Apollo, a former leader of the Bloods, was one of four gang leaders praised by then-candidate Bill Clinton during a Los Angeles campaign appearance last year for helping bring about a truce between the Bloods and the Crips.
Apollo and friends Vincent Saulsberry and Paul Stukin were trained in camera work and some interviewing techniques by two “Day One” producers, Robe Imbriano and Adam Mosston.
The producers then edited the hours of videotape, consulting with Apollo in the early stages and then flying him to New York for the final edit over the past several days. The voice-over script was written by Imbriano, using phrases and descriptions of Apollo’s from many hours of talking and interviewing.
“When we went looking for someone to do this piece, it was very clear that Apollo was considered a real community leader,” Imbriano said. “Apollo lined up everybody for the story, and he very quickly understood the process of doing the piece.”
Interviewed at ABC here, Apollo said he is satisfied with the way the story has turned out and wants to work with Imbriano and Mosston again--a feeling they share.
“The people in my neighborhood have no belief that this thing will make it onto TV as the truth,” Apollo said.
“The people there trusted me, but they’ve had bad feelings about the way that South-Central has been covered on TV. During the uprising, the TV people didn’t take footage of everything that was going on; they just wanted stuff that got ratings. My opinion is that journalists ought to get off their butts and come down here now. What we tried to do in this piece was just to tell the truth about what it’s like to live in ‘The Jungle'--some of the junkies call it ‘Gilligan’s Island'--the laughter, the hurt and the cries.”
Apollo said that he is interested in doing community work in South-Central, adding that he believes government programs are vital to the depressed area to which he will now return.
Asked whether he thought his story might be considered inflammatory, coming as it does during the second trial of the policemen accused of beating Rodney G. King trial and one month before the first anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, Apollo responded, “I’m trying to do something positive here. If we can understand each other and bridge the gaps between us, maybe we can help stop the violence.”