American Gangster, based on the life of Lucas Frank, starring Denzel Washington and Russel Crowe was a great film exploring the little-known influence of an African-American drug lord in New York and New Jersey.
Denzel Washington plays a fine role portraying Lucas Frank as a refined criminal who is intelligent, honourable, and disciplined despite working in a questionable profession. He was one of the earliest individuals in the United States to even consider acquiring his drug supply directly from the KMT opium suppliers in Southeast Asia rather than dealing with middlemen, which reduced his cost of production and assured him a higher quality product. This in turn allowed him to muscle out the competition by selling a more potent drug at competitive prices which would increase the value proposition of his product. Lucas also made another innovation by branding his heroin “Blue Magic” to separate it from the rest of the pricier, diluted heroin.
It was even more interesting to learn how Frank Lucas was able to keep his organisation going with the help of his close family members and trusted men from his hometown. The only problems that actually came up during his rise to power were resentment from the White mafia, who resented the fact a Black man was putting them in a corner in the heroin trade, and the corrupt NYPD Special Investigations Unit who were out to extort him. However, racism was able to work towards Frank’s advantage as many racist Whites were strongly reluctant to believe that even a Black man could be capable of running an organisation that would surpass the American mafia in the drug trade, which was briefly discussed in the film.
Even more interesting was Richie Roberts, the man who eventually arrested Lucas for his crimes:
Richie Roberts was a New Jersey/Essex County Prosecutor’s Detective, former Marine and lawyer who doggedly pursued and successfully prosecuted gangster great, Frank Lucas. There was no bigger, more notorious drug dealer in 1970s New York than Frank Lucas, who sold drugs out of his beat up Chevrolet, Nellybelle, at the corner of 116th Street and Eight Avenue. He was nefariously brilliant, a hustler, and a killer who smuggled incredibly potent heroin into the United States from Vietnam utilizing caskets and body bags of dead American soldiers.
Roberts convicted Frank Lucas in addition to 41 or 43 of Lucas’s street team, otherwise known as the “Country Boys”. But it wasn’t until hearing a compelling; riveting testimony by a woman whose son died overdosing on Frank’s heroin that Frank wanted to talk. The result, Roberts turned Lucas into a police informant, exposing the crooked cops and drug dealers involved in the scheme. After the trial, his conviction and cooperation totally destroyed the heroin connection between Southeast Asia and the U.S.; it led to the arrest and convictions of over 150 major players.
Amazingly, Roberts later became Lucas’s defence attorney and helped reduce his 70-year prison sentence to just 15 years, which allowed Frank Lucas to leave prison in 1991. What is more amazing is that both Roberts and Lucas are still good friends to this day despite Roberts being the one who brought Lucas down.