We crave crime stories. So when there’s no real crime to talk about, we make it up. “Just because the crime rate is going down doesn’t mean anything,” says 25-year-old Brooklyn filmmaker Ousala Aleem. “People always want to see crime.”
Which explains the success of Criminals Gone Wild, the DVD Aleem released last year featuring footage of carjackings, armed robberies, and shootings. The Daily News broke the story of Aleem, “the most depraved director in New York,” after an unnamed Brooklyn man called the paper to report that he’d seen footage of his own mugging on the YouTube trailer for Criminals Gone Wild. Aleem, the paper wrote, had been “filming felonies as they happen, slapping them on a DVD—and selling them for $26.98, shipping included.”
On the DVD, men make boasts—“I done killed mad people, man”—and wave guns at the camera, before going about their crime sprees. In one segment, a guy mugs a teenager in Times Square (“We’re making a movie called I Got Robbed on 42nd Street,” he tells the kid). In another, a man robs two music producers at gunpoint.
For TV news producers, this footage was a gift. Nearly every local news station—plus Telemundo, Geraldo at Large, and The O’Reilly Factor—aired segments from the DVD. Not only could newscasters show extended clips of shocking scenes but they could express moral outrage about how awful it was. “It’s just plain disturbing,” boomed WABC correspondent Jeff Rossen. “Men so proud of breaking the law, so proud of shooting people and robbing people, that they actually invited the cameras along to watch … And the filmmaker says it’s all real: real robberies, real home invasions, real shootings.”
But were they real? Though Aleem won’t quite admit that the victim who called the Daily News was a plant, or that the crimes on the DVDs were faked, mostly by Connecticut’s Duffle Bag Boiz rap crew (Aleem shot a few of their music videos), some of the “actors” have come forward to claim it was all just a prank. One day, Aleem will come clean: “I’m gonna put together a book and tell everybody my media secrets,” he says. In the meantime, he likens his film to “those so-called fake Louis Vuitton bags—they look just like real ones. Real and fake—we can debate those words all night.”
As for the critics who denounce him for capitalizing on crime (or at least the idea of crime)? “I say, you’re capitalizing off of crime because you’re capitalizing off of me capitalizing off of crime!”