Soc 3102
American Gangster Criminal Theories
Crime. There are many theories as to why it happens, who it happens to, as well as who commits it. American Gangster is a film that encompasses many of these theories along with telling a true story of crime, conflict, and corruption. Before analyzing and discussing how certain theories play into the film, we must first review the theories themselves, as well as key events and characters within the film.
First we will review the theories through the use of Classical Theories of Crime and Disrepute, which is a chapter written by John Hagan regarding theories of crime as well as looking into a few case studies that have been done. The chapter first looks into the different Structural Functional Theories. He defines these theories by saying that they “tend to see crime and other forms of disreputable behavior as resulting from breakdown or strain in social processes that otherwise produce conformity.” The theories that are under this category include theories of Anomie, Delinquent Subculture, Differential Opportunity, Social Control, Social Disorganization, and Aker’s Social Learning. The work of Ianni with ethnic succession as well as the Italian Mafia is also talked about in this section of the piece.
Next in Hagan’s writing is the Symbolic Interactionist Theories, which is described as the shaping of deviant behavior and the responses to it. The theories under this category include Differential Association, Neutralization, and Labeling, as well as a case study on The Vocational Meaning of Crime done by Peter Letkemann in a book that he authored in 1973. These theories, along with the others under the category of Structural Functional, as well as the conflict theories (also talked about in Hagan’s piece) all play key roles in crime within a society, each with their own place.
After looking briefly into what the Classical Theories of Crime are, we will now transition into looking at the film, American Gangster. Based on a true story, the main character, Frank Lucas, is an incredibly wealthy, African American heroin dealer portrayed by Denzel Washington. In the beginning of the film, Frank is the driver for notorious gangster Bumpy Johnson, who was the one who got him deep onto the track of crime. When Bumpy dies, Frank decides to go on his own and start a heroin business. What he decided to do was what he was known for, and that was to buy his drugs directly from the source in Asia, which eliminated middlemen. As his selling game grows, he moves his family to New Jersey so his brothers and cousins can help him with the operation. All of these brothers and cousins start up shops as covers for selling “Blue Magic”, which was the name of the pure heroin that was being sold. Frank married a Puerto Rican model named Eva, and started to flaunt his wealth. This got him on the radar of detective Richie Roberts, who was previously investigating other heroin trades and conspiracy with other police force members such as Detective Trupo and his squad. Frank continues to bring in large shipments of this heroin with the help of certain military men who were stationed in Vietnam. Roberts starts to catch on to what is happening, and attempted to intercept a shipment coming over at a U.S military base. The original search turned up nothing, but upon following coffins from the shipment Roberts found what he was looking for. They followed one of Frank’s trucks to one of the distribution centers of the heroin. They then busted Frank, as well as all of the family members and workers that participated in the business. When the case went to court, Frank and Roberts made a deal where Frank gave up the names of the police officers, detectives, soldiers, etc., who were all part of the heroin conspiracy. Frank was sentenced to seventy years in prison, but due to the deal he made with Roberts, only served fifteen.
Throughout the film there are many instances where the Classical Theories show up within this story. There were four theories that stuck out to me and that I noticed happening, which were the Differential Opportunity, Social Control, Social Disorganization, and Differential Association. Each of these had specific examples in the film where