Why you should care
Because IRL crime is the most compelling to watch.
The true crime genre has exploded in recent years, with Making a Murderer and The Jinx captivating audiences and drawing interest to a cutthroat world. Here gangsters, murderers, criminals, drug addicts, prostitutes, snitches, scam artists and law enforcement coexist — some plotting the demise of others, and some just trying to make a buck. Here are three true crime documentaries to check out next.
In the 1980s, when the Colombian cartels were pumping tons of kilos into Los Angeles, “Freeway” Ricky Ross was an illiterate King of Cocaine. But after getting caught and receiving a life sentence, he learned how to read and got his case overturned. Filmed in the 2010s after his release, the documentary is a harrowing journey into the mind of a man who left prison with nothing, but rebuilt his life, despite being a victim of police corruption, the CIA and the government. Ross says the film’s overall message is also what he tries to tell kids: “No matter where you’re at in life, you can always bounce back.” The 2015 film by Marc Levin mixes archival footage and interviews with Ross and others, outlining the impact of crack cocaine on society. “I knew my story had that kind of magnitude.” Ross says. “I always knew that, but for [the making of the film] to actually happen, it let me know that the way I thought was correct.”
Known as the Black Godfather, Frank “Pee Wee” Matthews was the first African-American drug lord to loosen the Italian mafia’s stranglehold on heroin importation. The North Carolina native and Brooklyn transplant ran a drug empire that stretched from New York to cities across the nation in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Eventually Matthews was arrested, but he disappeared, allegedly with $20 million in cash — it’s a compelling mystery still under investigation today. Al Profit’s film (2012) paints a picture of the drug lord in all his grandeur, scheming and excess. Interviews with gangland experts, ex-criminals and law enforcement types are juxtaposed with Blaxploitation-era photos, court documents and speculation. “Frank Matthews was the black Keyser Söze, the guy from The Usual Suspects,” Profit tells OZY. “When we started working on the doc, we didn’t know if he was a real person or not because the stories were so fantastic, but it turns out they were all true.”
When the Black Mafia Family (BMF) — an inner-city, Detroit-based drug ring — moved their operation to Atlanta in the early 2000s, they rocketed to infamy in the city’s underworld and hip-hop community. Demetrius Flenory, aka Big Meech, thought he could finance his way into the rap game, but he was busted before he could make the transition from drug lord to rap mogul and sentenced to 30-something years in federal prison. Told through interviews, exclusive photos and news reports, the 2012 film profiles the BMF in all their glory, before the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) took them down after an investigation that spanned 15 years. “Having access to the DEA allowed me to see the real story, and meeting Meech in jail was unforgettable,” says director Don Sikorski. He’s since transitioned his love of the true crime genre to Hollywood, going on to produce blockbusters like The Infiltrator (2016) with Bryan Cranston.