How Exactly Did Crack Become Whack? FX’s ‘Snowfall’ Provides a Detailed Origin Story

Snowfall - Malcolm Mays, Damson Idris, and Isaiah John
Malcolm Mays, Damson Idris, and Isaiah John

South Central L.A. circa 1983 was a stable working-class neighborhood turned inside out only a short time later, when it evolved into a gang war zone thanks to the introduction of a cheaper—and deadlier—form of cocaine known as crack. FX’s incisive new drama Snowfall is the brainchild of executive producer and cocreator John Singleton (who explored similar territory in his acclaimed 1991 debut film, Boyz N the Hood).

“The series tells the story of what happened to the African-American community [during that time],” cocreator Dave Andron says. Franklin Saint (British newcomer Damson Idris, center, with Malcolm Mays and Isaiah John) is a smart and ambitious low-level marijuana seller who seizes the opportunity to hawk the powder cocaine and makes some dangerous choices as he moves up the chain.

Connecting storylines intersect along with the rise of the new drug. There’s Gustavo “El Oso” Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mancheta), a Mexican wrestler improving his street cred by becoming an enforcer for an East L.A. kingpin, while said kingpin’s ambitious daughter, Lucia (Emily Rios), lays down plans to expand the business from pot to coke. And then there’s possibly the most controversial character: disgraced CIA officer Teddy McDonald (Carter Hudson), a “patriot who believes America is a force for good and that communism is a great evil,” Hudson says. Teddy’s dilemma? Funding arms purchases to right-wing militias that are fighting the leftist Nicaraguan government, with money raised from selling the cocaine smuggled in by those fighters to U.S. buyers.

“There are things people may know a little bit about, but it’s very layered and nuanced and complicated,” Andron says of the story, based on firsthand accounts
of the era. “Hopefully even if you know where it is going, it is an entertaining ride getting there.”

Snowfall, Series Premiere, Wednesday, July 5, 10/9c, FX