Mar 02 2010

‘Beat It’ Video Included Actual Crips and Bloods Gang Members in a Dicey Real-life Scene

Category: Photos,Quotes About MJ,VideosSeven @ 2:11 am

Michael Jackson, ever the fearless peacemaker and creative genius, wanted the video for ‘Beat It‘ to be as realistic as possible. So, much to the unease of the director, Michael worked with LAPD to recruit actual Crips and Bloods gang members for the shoot. The effort was not without its problems, and the tension was thick. They had one last shot before LAPD wanted to shut it down. In the end, when the choreographed dancing scenes took place with MJ and the other dancers, their remarkable talent changed contempt into grudging respect and the gang members actually applauded – and no one got hurt.

Besides subjecting him to the hair-raising experience of working with actual LA street gangs on this video, soft-spoken Michael also left Director Bob Giraldi with a lasting bit of advice: ‘You use the F-word too much.’

Beat It - Live Performance

Beat It - Live Performance

From Director Bob Giraldi:

What did you base the concept on?

One of the things that is totally mistaken that I’ve read many times is that most people think “Beat It” was inspired by West Side Story and that’s absolutely not true at all.

I grew up in Paterson, New Jersey – always an edgy town but full of people really trying to be so much tougher than they really are. It seemed to me this song of peace, this song of reconciliation that Michael had written was perfect for a quasi kind of rumble. I’ve read where, the two lead dancers – Michael Peters and Vince Paterson – when they had their wrists tied and held the switchblades, that came from West Side Story. That’s not true at all. That came from a story I heard when I worked in a factory one summer. A real tough kid from Jersey told me that he’d witnessed two guys who had their wrists tied and they held switchblades, and only one came out – and not too well. It was based on that little fable.

Michael liked my idea and decided he was going to include the Crips and Bloods, which I thought was insane. If you see the video, you’ll see guys that look like the real deal because they are the real deal.

How did you cast the real gang members?

It was Michael. He went out and he got ’em through, I guess, the LAPD’s gang squad and he convinced them that, with enough police presence, this would be a smart and charitable thing to do; get them there to like each other and hang with each other for two days doing the video. I didn’t like the idea because it was hard enough to direct actors and dancers, let alone hoods.

So he tried to use the video to foster peace between them?

Michael was always about peace. He was always about some sort of peace offering. That was his idea and the cops did go along with it and as history has it, we were almost shut down the first night because, as you know, film sets get to be very boring after the first hour.

I guess the Crips and Bloods started to get on each other’s nerves – they are mortal enemies – and we had a few incidents and two cops came to me and said they wanted to close it down. I somehow convinced the cop squad guy to just let me [shoot the] dance. I was gonna hold the dance for the second night of shooting. I said, ‘The only thing I can think that’ll save this is to let me just blast the music. I have a feeling it’ll calm everything down. Can’t get any worse, just give me a chance.‘ And the cop was cool, he looked at me and said, ‘OK, not much more.’ I couldn’t go much more because it was volatile – no question about it – and scary. So we were in that warehouse, change of plans we’re going to do the dance, get Michael out of the camper, here we go.

What happened next?

The gang members couldn’t dance so they formed the ring and watched. And the [dancers] all started to dance with Michael Peters and Vince Paterson. When Michael Jackson comes down and does what he does, I remember looking at the faces of all the Crips and Bloods lined up and their expressions as they listened to that music and watched those kids dance. Those kids were basically, most of them were gay… and when they started to dance, the Crips and the Bloods had that look like, ‘You know what? With all our wars and vendettas and stuff, that’s cool right there. That’s something we’ll never be able to do.’ And that’s what made that evening work.

What impact has “Beat It” and working with Michael Jackson had on your career?

I met a man who I have total respect for. One of the most interesting things he ever said to me, I’ll never forget, we were arguing, he said to me in that very high-pitched voice of his, ‘You use the F-word too much’. That always stuck with me. I thought that was smart to say at a time like that.

I watched a man dance better than anyone I’d ever seen in my life and I watched a man talk softly and carry a tremendously big stick, get what he wanted and get his way. . .


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{ Thanks to my friends Debby and Sinead for their information and writing contributions to this piece! -Seven }

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3 Responses to “‘Beat It’ Video Included Actual Crips and Bloods Gang Members in a Dicey Real-life Scene”

  1. Susan says:

    Hi Seven:

    Thank you once again for providing us with interesting and uplifting articles on Michael. Your site is the first I check to see every morning before work and the last before I go to bed. So many wonderful little stories of Michael by people who actually knew him or worked with him. Isn’t that just like Michael to be oblivious to the possible danger to himself by working with the “Crips” and the “Bloods” to bring realism to his art and also to always see the good in people. Maybe by being involved in the “Beat It” video, some of the gang members might have become inspired to change the course of their lives. Michael likely saved more lives than we’ll ever know!

  2. Justice4MJJ says:

    Wow, thank you for that! I’d always heard that rumor too, that it was inspired from West Side Story. So glad to hear that the concept was original, and more of the actual feelings on set, versus the way the media always just says: “there were real gang members in Beat It, that is all”.

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