Delila Vallot’s Can You Dig This, with John Legend as the executive producer, released in 2015, tells the story of “Gangster Gardeners,” a group of people living in threatening South Compton and Watts neighborhoods, who aspire to change both the physical and atmospheric aspects of the nearby projects. By transforming the dead dirt into a landscape of green beauty, they hope to give life to the crime-infested area of the projects.
After first watching the trailer, I was already hooked by this newly-discovered “hobby” in such corrupted neighborhoods. It’s almost enigmatic in the way in which these people can change not just the physical landscape within the community, but also their personal lives. It was inspiring to watch these people feel at home in these gardens, and even desire to stray away from the ways they grew up, and go past the crime and gang life they grew up in. I cannot imagine going to a middle school located in-between the gang territories of the Crips and the Bloods. To think that some of the people went through that, went through going to jail on several occasions, and are still able to literally “grow” out of that and become something entirely different is incredibly uplifting.
Others who walk by these gardens in Southside Compton are amazed at the beauty that erupts from them. Someone walked by once, pointed to a sunflower and asked, “Yo, son. Is that real?” “Renegade Gardener” Ron Finley, who has become somewhat of a green thumb extraordinaire, claims that the garden is about “letting people get into the dirt and see what it does,” and that it can “transform lives.”
Finley has become so well-known as coming out of the Projects to do expand this urban gardening movement, that he was featured on a TED Talk, and now travels throughout the country to show screenings of this film and spread this message’s seed.
Mychael “Spicey” Evans, another gardener, had been gang banging since middle school, which was geographically in-between the Crips and the Bloods. Arrested on several occasions, Spicey says,
“dreams ain’t nothing but thoughts to me… I don’t even use that word.”
But he still gardens, as it gives him a moment of peace in a surrounding community of gunshots. Throughout the film, others with a variety of motives for gardening show their compassion and optimism for growing up and away, just like the seeds they spread.
This documentary has won several awards and continues to spread its message. One negative aspect that I thought this film fell towards, was self-promotion and profit– one has to pay to see the screenings, and there was not a direct mention of the movie’s intent. It did not specify whether or not it was just an observational piece or if it had an impact, using Finley’s program.