Chapter by devastating chapter, Stanley Nelson’s compelling Netflix documentary, Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy, examines the shadowy origins and destructive impact of crack cocaine in America.
The film starts with archive footage and the powerful words of people whose lives have been forever changed by this drug. Nelson interviews historians, journalists, scientists, dealers and users to create a comprehensive timeline of events.
In 1980, Ronald Regan began his presidency with a promise of wealth for all. “His way to do that,” says historian Elizabeth Hinton, “was to stimulate a free market that would help lift people out of poverty”.
However, Hinton explains that the US government’s focus was on disenchanted white voters. And there he is, the symbol of 1980s excess - Gordon Gekko. Micheal Douglas’s iconic line in Wall Street inspires the documentary’s first chapter: “Greed Is Good”.
Journalist, Nelson George, recalls that in the '80s there was “a lifestyle of celebration and coke was a part of that lifestyle”. Crack does not shy away from exploring the drug’s attractions. “The first time I did a line of cocaine,” former user Alan Charles remembers, “I felt like, oh my god, where has this stuff been?”
Cocaine was by no means an accessible drug and it was far too expensive for inner city people of colour. Their lives had only become harder as, in reality, President Regan’s wealth creation plan benefited the few at the expense of the many.
The availability of cocaine then changed dramatically. Hinton tells us that, between 1982 and 1984, the amount of cocaine coming into the US increased by a staggering fifty percent. The drug poured into the country from all directions and, as journalist John Mattes reveals, “everyone had a hand in it”.
In its second and third chapters - They Call It Crack and Street Capitalists - Nelson’s documentary investigates the explosion of crack, how it was sold, how it impacted communities and the drug’s heartbreaking legacy. The human cost is devastating. We meet an addict who has been punished time and time again, see a man break down in tears because all of his childhood friends are gone and hear from a mother who has lost her children.
With impressive pace and efficiency, Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy puts all the pieces together to reveal the corruption and hypocrisy at the heart of this story - and remind us what was lost as a result.