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“We sat in a garage and I said, one day I’m going to be running L.A.” –
Freeway Rick Ross
NEW YORK, February 2, 2015 -- Al Jazeera America will premiere “Freeway: Crack In the System,” an original two-part documentary by award-winning filmmaker Marc Levin (SLAM, Mr. Untouchable, Brick City) chronicling the extraordinary rise, fall and redemption of Freeway Rick Ross, the man considered responsible for ushering crack cocaine into Los Angeles and ultimately across the United States. Produced by Al Jazeera America in association with Blowback Productions and Royal Interactive Studios, this is a story of broken dreams, drug dealers, dirty cops, and government complicity—proving once again that documentary is more compelling than fiction. The film’s original title track “Crack in the System” is written and performed by Snoop Dogg.
“Freeway: Crack in the System” Part 1 premieres on Sunday, March 1 at 10pm ET and Part 2 premieres on Sunday, March 8 at 10pm ET. Part 1 encores on Sunday, March 8 at 9pm ET, immediately before Part 2 debuts.
“Freeway: Crack in the System” tells the true story behind America’s crack scourge of the ’80s and ’90s, featuring exclusive interviews with the people who lived it. At the center of the story stands the former “King of Crack,” Freeway Rick Ross, who grew up in economically depressed South Central Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a tennis pro. Through the story of his early days selling drugs and his introduction to a new supplier, Nicaraguan drug trafficker Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes, Rick and his friends are soon transformed from low-level street hustlers to major dealers. “We were starving, we were just looking for a way to succeed,” recalls Ollie Newell, Rick’s former business partner.
“Freeway” chronicles how Nicaraguan drugs were soon flooding South Central Los Angeles. Rick Ross was unaware at the time that he had become the central player in the so-called “CIA-Contra-Cocaine Controversy.” The Reagan administration supported the anti-communist Contras in their struggle to overthrow the Sandinistas’ Marxist government in Nicaragua. However, the U.S. Congress banned support of the Contras. Soon, FBI and police busts were starting to link the Contras and drugs. “Freeway: Crack in the System” tells the story of how Rick Ross’ network expanded until he was supplying drugs to major cities and regions across the country, and how the U.S. government may have looked the other way to allow the Nicaraguan Contras to raise funds for their anti-Communist struggle.
“Freeway: Crack in the System” introduces American investigative reporter Gary Webb. Webb broke the story of the CIA’s complicity in the drug war in a series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News. The film features rare and exclusive interviews with major players from Webb’s stories, including Webb's source Coral Baca, and wife Susan Webb; former Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff Roberto Juarez; drug trafficker Julio Zavala and many more.
Finally, the documentary exposes how the intersection of new drug laws enacted in 1986 (which made possession of 10 grams of crack the same as 1,000 grams of powder cocaine), the Iran Contra scandal and the rise of gangs like the Crips and Bloods helped fuel the rapid spread of crack cocaine into Black and Latino neighborhoods around the nation and led to the incarceration of millions of Americans of color.
Today Rick Ross is a free man after serving over 20 years in federal prison. Illiterate until he was 28, he has become a major advocate with his Freeway Literacy Foundation. Over half of those incarcerated in the U.S. are functionally illiterate. His mission is to teach literacy—reading, writing, financial and media —to those whom educators find the hardest to reach. He acknowledges the terrible damage crack created, especially in African American communities, and he is now trying to give back.
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Producer, director and writer Marc Levin’s history covering the drug war goes back to the Iran-Contra hearings with Bill Moyers, for “The Secret Government,” which garnered him an Emmy, to meeting Gary Webb through “C.I.A: America’s Secret Warriors,” which won a duPont-Columbia award, to tracking down heroin kingpin Nicky Barnes in “Mr. Untouchable,” to his HBO films “Gang War: Bangin’ In Little Rock,” “Prisoners of the War on Drugs” and “Thug Life in DC,” among others. Of making the film, Levin says, “This is personal. I was there at the Iran Contra hearings where I first heard the accusation that the CIA stood for Crack in America. I knew Gary Webb. I met Rick Ross when he was in prison for life. This is the real story of the crack era and the blowback we’ve lived with for over 30 years.”
PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY Marc Levin
PRODUCED BY Mike Marangu and Guy Logan
CO-PRODUCERS Nicholas Burnett, Antonio Moore and Christopher K. Walker
CONSULTING PRODUCERS Daniel Voll, Kevin Booth, Quincy Jones III, Walter “Big” Hollis
EDITED BY Christopher K. Walker
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY James Adolphus
About Al Jazeera America
Al Jazeera America is the U.S. news channel that provides both domestic and international news for American audiences. Headquartered in New York City with bureaus in 12 cities across the United States, Al Jazeera America is available in more than 61 million homes in the U.S. on Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV Channel 347, Dish Network Channel 215, Verizon FiOS Channel 614 and AT&T U-Verse Channel 1219. The name “Al Jazeera” means “peninsula.” Al Jazeera America’s distinctive logo is said to resemble a drop of water and its calligraphic design spells “Al Jazeera” in Arabic. To find Al Jazeera America in your area, visit www.aljazeera.com/getajam.
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For more information contact:
Jodi Davis, 212-273-4916, Jodi.firstname.lastname@example.org