Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy Movie Poster Image
Provocative docu about drugs, corruption, and racism.
  • NR
  • 2021
  • 89 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Documentary paints a bleak portrait of the systemic racism and political corruption rooted in the crack epidemic and the "War on Drugs" of the 1980s and '90s.

Positive Role Models

While there are no shortage of bad leaders and bad policy in this history of the crack epidemic and the "War on Drugs," academics, journalists, and community activists show how important their work is in uncovering the truth behind the lies.


Archival news footage shows coverage of street violence and homicide during the crack epidemic of the 1980s. Some disturbing archival footage, including a scene in which a young child begs police not to take his mother away as they're arresting her.


Talk of how some women who were addicted to crack cocaine would perform sexual acts in order to get the drug, sometimes involving a group of men at the same time.


Some profanity throughout, including "bulls--t," "s--t," "d--k," "goddamn," "piss."


Documentary shows a McDonald's commercial from the 1980s centered on an African American teenager living in the inner city whose life and character noticeably improves after getting a job at McDonald's.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The documentary discusses the development of crack cocaine and its spread across America. Archival footage of people using cocaine and crack cocaine. Recovering crack addicts discuss their years of struggle with the drug, and how it ruined their lives. Archival footage of a man holding a bottle of malt liquor.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy is a 2021 documentary that shows the devastation that the crack epidemic and the War on Drugs wreaked in the 1980s. Unsurprisingly, there's a lot of archival footage of crack cocaine use and dealing. Cocaine use shown. Talk of freebasing cocaine. Some disturbing archival footage, including a scene in which a young child begs police not to take his mother away as they're arresting her. Archival news footage of street violence and homicides as the epidemic spread. Talk of how women would prostitute themselves in order to obtain crack, and the sexual acts they would perform. Some profanity, including "s--t" and "d--k." In terms of positives, the movie shows the good that community activists, academics, and journalists have done as they bring light to the systemic racism, political corruption, and hypocrisy that so dominated the drug policy and anti-drug culture of the 1980s and into the 1990s.

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What's the story?

CRACK: COCAINE, CORRUPTION & CONSPIRACY shows the ravages of the crack epidemic and the subsequent "War on Drugs" of the 1980s and into the '90s. Developed as a cheaper form of cocaine, crack soon spread throughout America, making millions for drug dealers, and soon spiraling out of control. As violent crime, homicide, and addiction wreaked havoc on America's inner cities, this documentary explores how so much cocaine got into America so easily, and the role cocaine smuggling played in the infamous "Iran-Contra Affair." Through interviews with recovering addicts, former dealers, journalists, community organizers, and academics, this documentary presents some horrific facts concerning how systemic racism and government corruption and hypocrisy led to African American communities bearing the terrible brunt of the tragedies and the arrests, even as the majority of crack users were White. The documentary shows how crack ruined the lives of so many, and how the "War on Drugs" made it worse by favoring punitive rather than health-based solutions to addiction.

Is it any good?

As the crack epidemic of the 1980s worsened, cocaine continued to arrive in America under suspicious circumstances, and the "War on Drugs" only made it worse. This is what is shown and discussed in the thoughtful and provocative documentary Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy. Through a mix of archival footage and contemporary interviews, this documentary paints a bleak and unsparing portrait of crack's spread throughout America, how it spiraled out of control, ruined lives, and led to a Reagan Administration "War on Drugs" that disproportionately went after communities of color, even as the majority of crack users were White.

It shows how the media bought into lies rooted in racism, such as the myth of "crack babies" that has since been disproven by medical professionals. While Nancy Reagan told the youth of America to "Just Say No," cocaine smuggling was a facet of the war on communism in Central America that resulted in the infamous "Iran Contra Scandal." It's a maddening and heartbreaking story of systemic racism, governmental corruption, and hypocrisy, expertly told and paced. In light of continued discussion and reflection on the role of systemic racism with drug addiction, crime, and the vast increase in the prison population since 1980, Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy is a relevant part of the discussion, an illuminating portrait of a terrible chapter in American history, and in some respects a tribute to the work journalists, community activists, and academics do to reveal truths that may be difficult to face about our country and society.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy compares to other documentaries. What methods are used in the documentary to tell this story from recent American history?

  • What might be an argument someone would make who disagreed with how the "War on Drugs" was waged in the 1980s? What are your thoughts on the facts and arguments presented in the movie?

  • How does the movie show the nature of drug addiction and how it was treated in the 1980s as compared to now?

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