ATLANTA — Filmmaker John Singleton remembered taking a ride through a section of a south Los Angeles neighbourhood seeing security bars on every window and huge metal gates surrounding each home.
The recent drive instantly reminded Singleton about when residents in the area first took cautioned measures to guard their house to prevent home invasions during the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic.
“People made it almost like they were imprisoning themselves in their homes,” the Los Angeles native recalled. “In the early 80s, people started breaking into people’s houses. Crack really took hold back then. … But this is a story no one has ever told before. There’s always a new cocaine story that’s East Coast. But there’s really never a story how the West Coast changed from this. So, I wanted to get into it.”
Singleton co-created the new series “Snowfall,” which focuses on the genesis of how crack cocaine became a rampant epidemic in Los Angeles’ inner city neighbourhoods in 1983. The first season premieres Wednesday on FX at 10 p.m. EDT.
Singleton, an Oscar-nominated writer-director, is best known for his critically-acclaimed movies from “Boyz N the Hood,” ”Poetic Justice” and “Higher Learning.” But these days, he is doing more television after directing episodes of “Empire” and “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” along with the BET drama “Rebel.”
“It’s like making a movie every week, instead of every couple of years,” he said. “For me, I like telling stories. I have so many of them. With ‘Snowfall,’ I can tell a story about real folks and what they are going through.”
“Snowfall” tells a story of a violent collision course involving a young street entrepreneur, a Mexican wrestler tied up in a power struggle with a crime family, the daughter of a Mexican crime lord and a CIA operative who begins an off-book operation to fund the Nicaraguan Contras.
“This story is very important and must be told and seen,” said Damson Idris, who plays the star character of 19-year-old Franklin Saint, a street-minded entrepreneur who was educated in an upper class neighbourhood. He’s determined to get into the drug game to take care of people around him.
“Not only does it speak to an older generation who may have survived or lived through it, but it might speak to a new generation who may not be as informed,” he continues. “It’s going to teach people about their past.”
Idris, an actor of Nigerian descent who grew up in London, said he didn’t know anything about the drug epidemic in the United States until he visited Los Angeles for the first time and saw Skid Row — an impoverished area inhabited by the homeless. He called the experience “heartbreaking.”
“When we hear about these drugs stories, we tend to think, ‘Wow, do we need to see black people in turmoil? Or black people struggling?’” he said. “But I want people to know that this show doesn’t glorify or glamorize crack cocaine or any other drug. Kids were born into this. They are surrounded by people who are still on this drug, people who didn’t survive and was destroyed by it.”
Singleton said it took some years for “Snowfall” to see an actual premiere date. He said Showtime was originally supposed to air the series, but he said the network parted ways with them because they “just didn’t get it.”
“It was before ‘Empire’ became a hit,” he said. “It was a strong urban based show. (Showtime) just didn’t get it. But when ‘Empire’ hit, FX finally picked ‘Snowfall’ up. I guess (Showtime) is doing another show that’s Chicago-based. They’re trying to catch up. Get them some flavour. Everybody wants to be black. They want black people now. We’re giving it to them uncut, something they’ve never seen before.”