Rubble Kings – Interview with Director Shan Nicholson

"From 1968 to 1975, gangs ruled New York City. Beyond the idealistic hopes of the civil rights movement lay a unfocused rage. Neither law enforcement nor social agency could end the escalating bloodshed. Peace came only through the most unlikely and courageous of events that would change the world for generations to come by giving birth to hip-hop culture. Rubble Kings chronicles life during this era of gang rule, tells the story of how a few extraordinary, forgotten people did the impossible, and how their actions impacted New York City and the world over."  From RUBBLE KINGS Website.

Click through for my interview with the documentary's director Shan Nicholson.

Rubble Kings The Fence

Rubble Kings is the feature length documentary about the gang culture in NYC during the late 60's and early 70's.  In Director Shan Nicholson's director statement he sums up why he took this project.

"I was instantly drawn to the story behind Rubble Kings. It was the backdrop to all Iknew as a kid growing up in New York City during the 1980s. Hip-hop was my world- it was a movement growing on every stoop in every borough throughout the city. As kids, we would hear the echoes of generations past and the stories of the outlaw gangs that ruled the streets. Looking back, the tales seemed almost folkloric in nature filled with names like the Savage Skulls, Seven Immortals, and the Black Spades. We had no idea that these gangs played such an integral part in the birth of our generation’s song."

Shan assembled some amazing interviews along the way with the heads of these former gangs.  As he puts it in his statement, certain leaders became the focus.

"Interviews with historian Marshall Berman and former mayor Ed Koch told a story of a city in collapse and the people who were left to pick up the pieces. Shortly after, we interviewed our principal characters- Karate Charlie and Yellow Benji, who painted a vivid picture of the South Bronx and the gang culture of the time. Their charisma, passion and intensity jumped off the screen and really set the pace for the film. We had something special."

Shan and I started our conversation by talking about meeting with Karate Charlie and Yellow Benji.

Shan Nicholson and Benji Melendez Getty Image by Dustin Harris

Shan with "Yellow" Benji.

Over time Shan and his team talked with a bunch of the main figures of that time period.  I asked Shan about how he got these guys to open up on camera for him.

I was really curious why I hadn't heard a lot of these gangs' stories.  In a culture where the Mafia is almost idolized why aren't the street gangs in our most well known city almost forgotten to the public?

Don't forget us.

Rubble Kings Gang Shot

or us

Savage Skull members in Bronx

One element of the documentary I really loved was the incredible music in the movie.  I asked Shan about the importance of music for this film and the quality work that Little Shalimar did.

We got more in-depth about the impact of music on the entire scene.

I asked Shan what was the most interesting lesson he learned from interviewing these gang leaders.

The great John Leguizamo was the narrator of the film and I asked Shan about having the New York native on board!

Speaking of big time!  This guy is a producer on the film.

Rubble Kings Producer Jim Carrey

I asked Shan about getting folks like Jim Carrey behind this movie and he brought up the huge impact of their kickstarter campaign.

Rubble Kings

Rubble Kings Poster

The film is only 70 minutes long and I told Shan I easily could have watched another 30 minutes and been fine.  I asked him if they have a bunch of extra footage and also about any hopes of an educational tour of the film.

Finally, I asked Shan if he will continue to do documentary work or jump into the Narrative side of films.  Also I asked if he had to join one of the gangs from the film which one would he choose?

Find out more information on the film, here.

Shan Nicholson would have been a Seven Immortal like these fellas

Rubble Kings - Seven Immortals

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