American Gangster is based on the true story of real-life drug kingpin Frank Lucas who by the 1960s constructed an international drug ring that spanned from New York to South East Asia. The film features Denzel Washington as Lucas and a New York City cop (Russell Crowe) who busted a big-time heroin ring. I have a love-hate relationship with this movie. In no way do I condone selling drugs and yet I will still watch this movie. There’s a little angel on my shoulder shaking her head in disgust and a little devil smirking at me as we both smile while watching Denzel’s swag.
So anyway, I was watching American Gangster last week and I started typing away at the notepad in my phone. Somehow, I had managed to think about writing. These days, I watch movies to see if they are well written as well as educational and entertaining. Eventually, I had come up with a nice little list of things I learned and I thought I’d share it with you.
Lesson #1: Influence
“I want what you got Uncle Frank. I wanna be you.”
One of the most powerful aspects of this movie is the message on Influence. Social influence occurs when someone’s emotions, opinions or behaviors are affected by others. In the movie, Frank’s nephew Stevie Lucas is an excellent baseball player and had been playing since he was a child. Now at the prominent financial level to do so, Frank schedules a meeting for his nephew with the Dodgers. Stevie does not show up. Now that he was part of his Uncle’s drug enterprise, he no longer had a desire to play ball. Instead, he wanted to be a drug kingpin like Frank. Played by the rapper T.I. this was one of the saddest parts of the movie for me when Stevie Lucas said he didn’t want to play baseball anymore although that was his passion since childhood. Instead, he wanted to be a drug dealer.
This movie is a reminder that you are not just living for yourself. The decisions you make and the opinions you give do not just belong to you but can influence the people around you. We don’t have to be celebrities or someone great to have influence. Somewhere, in our little corner of the world, someone is listening to us and silently taking our advice. People are watching you whether you know it or not and whether they speak up about it or not. The danger in this is that people will follow your example. Sadly, even when you’re wrong if they admire you enough.
Lesson #2: Follow Your Own Advice
“The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.”
Frank said this to Huey Lucas, his brother, after seeing him hanging out with Nicky Barnes, “one of the biggest heroin dealers in the country,” a 1977 New York Times Magazine article titled “Mister Untouchable” stated. Nicky is known as being arrogant and living a flamboyant lifestyle. In the movie Huey had taken on Nicky’s flamboyant way of dress and his haughty demeanor.
There is so much to learn from this quote alone. It goes hand in hand with the phrase, “the more you talk, the less you know.” Usually, it’s the people who are the weakest who makes the most noise.
Frank then turned around and wore an expensive fur, bought by his wife, to the Ali/Fraizer fight–the same “clown suit” he warned his brother not to wear–and stuck out like a sore thumb. This is what made the police take notice of him and pay attention to him. From this one mistake, they learned of Franks every move.
The message here is to remember to take your own advice, which is not always easy to do if you’re not paying attention. I am sure we all have an instance to which we forgot to take our own advice.
Lesson #3: The Love of Money
“Success has enemies…quitting while you are ahead is not the same as quitting.”
All any black man wants to do is take care of his family, I get that. But Frank messed his brothers and nephews life up. He traveled to North Carolina and recruited his brothers and cousins into his drug empire but he didn’t have to bring them into that. His brothers and cousins were country boys so it’s almost like, to me, that Frank took their innocence. He was the oldest (if the movie is correct in this portrayal) and they looked up to him. He could have used his influence more positively. Even his mother in the movie said: “If you was a preacher they would have all been preachers.” This goes back to lesson one. You have people who watch you and look up to you even if you don’t know it. So, my question is, why couldn’t they invest in the businesses they used as fronts for the drug deals to create real, legit businesses? Because of the love of money.
Lesson #4: The Business Mind
“Nobody owns me though. That’s ’cause I own my own company and my company sells a product that’s better than the competition, at a price that’s lower than the competition.”
There’s a lot to learn about business in this movie. Even if the business was in selling drugs. I believe you can get a lesson from anything if you’re paying enough attention to it. One of Frank’s many lessons had to do with launching a new product that was cheap but still held quality. In the 1970s heroine was often diluted with sugars, chalk, flour or powdered milk in order to stretch it. Addicts understood that the drug would have a lower potency. To create his one-of-a-kind “product,” Frank had to step outside of his comfort zone and go outside of the established heroin supply chain. He cut out the middleman and went straight to the source, a heroin producer in Saigon, Vietnam. In the movie, Frank didn’t dilute his heroin which made it more potent. He also sold it at a lower price.
The lesson here is that sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort circles to reach new levels. If you are surrounded by broke people then you will more than likely be broke too. If you are surrounded by people with no vision then all you will ever do is dream. If you want to reach new levels you have to surround yourself with people who are where you want to be. Want to publish a book? Want to understand how it’s done? Then surround yourself with people who are doing it right and take advice from people who have made it to where you want to be. This same thing applies to any business.
Lesson #5: Not Everything is as it Seems
The final and most important lesson is not to believe everything that you see. Much of this movie is made up by Hollywood. Denzel Washington is a more smooth and exaggerated version of the real Frank Lucas. The real Frank Lucas was not Bumpy Johnson’s driver for 15 years. He was not with Bumpy when he died. The real Frank Lucas did dilute his heroin, though not as much as the other dealers. The real Frank Lucas did collect numerous full mink and chinchillas aside from the one his wife bought and is often mentioned as being just as “flashy” as Nicky Barnes. And the real Frank Lucas is rumored to have been illiterate.
The cop, Richie Roberts, persona was also exaggerated in the movie. He did not have a child and was not in a custody battle with his ex-wife. He also had a much smaller role in the capturing of Frank Lucas.
The lesson here is to remember to do your own research. Don’t just believe the movies you watch, the articles you read or the things that you see on social media. Even salt looks like sugar and spoiled milk is still white. Always double-check your facts.