Opening Scene from The West

See the movie in full screen here:

A local filmmaker has created a documentary that has some people in the area saying it’s an unfair depiction of their community.

That filmmaker is Harvard senior Damilare Sonoiki.

The movie is called The West.

It’s a gritty look at life in the Alief area.

The documentary shows there is a thriving gang population with lots of violence in the small area just west of Houston.

Here at FOX 26 we received emails from people saying the documentary makes Alief look bad.

While others who are familiar with the area say Sonoiki’s documentary is a fair depiction of what’s happening.

I got a response from the filmmaker who sent me this email:



Filmmaker Damilare Sonoiki of Harvard University


Thanks for reaching out.

You said that some people felt that the documentary painted a darker
picture of Alief than it really is, and others felt that the documentary was completely accurate. I think both groups are right.

For some people, that is their reality–guns, gangs, etc. And for
others, that isn’t their reality.

I tried to make it clear that this
wouldn’t be that balanced or holistic  a depiction of the area with this disclaimer:

“Despite the focus of this film, southwest Houston is not a bad area,
and Alief is not a bad neighborhood. The vast majority of residents
are good, kind, hardworking people–the kind who make a neighborhood
special. This film is dedicated to them.”

However, I understand if that was not enough. The film focused on the
gangs / cliques and the streets for a few reasons.

Part of it was resources–the people I knew and the people who wanted to talk about Alief happened to be people who were involved in those things. Some of
the reasons are personal. I go to college out of state, and whenever I
come home, there’s always bad news–a former classmate or childhood
friend arrested for murder or dead. I thought it would be helpful to
document the causes of this violence and incarceration. And if not
document the causes, then at least document what was occurring–not
glorify it or promote it, but simply show that it was going on, try to
explore why it was going on, and try to highlight some solutions.

If you watch the whole thing, you’ll see that the message as a whole
is positive, not negative.

Damilare Sonoiki
Harvard Student


  1. Laurelle July 4, 2012 10:07 pm 

    Very accurate, he was being nice…probably for safety reasons. We are at risk . HPD is just allowing them to destroy our community.

  2. Marianne July 5, 2012 7:22 am 

    I attended Alief Hastings high school back in the ’70’s. It used to be THE place to live. There was NO crime. The difference? It was all white back in the ’70’s and you don’t have to be Einstein to see what happened since and what it has become. A sad commentary on today’s young black men. Guns and gangs. What is the answer? How do we fix this?

    • worldlyman July 12, 2012 4:18 am 

      It isn’t necessarily about skin color. Back then Alief was comprised of nice middle class families. Today, due to the eventual re-structuring of housing availability after the mid-80s energy crash, Alief is comprised of many impoverished to working class families. That socio-economic reality had essentially manifested itself as to why Alief is what it is, compared to yesteryear.

      Let us not look at “blacks” being evil or “whites” being saintly…we recall the Third Reich, for example. We recall a vivid example when those white, blond Luftwaffe Germans did things like terror bomb and kill fellow white blond people in Rotterdam, Netherlands back in May 1940.

      We see the rich white men here in this country whose elitist financial games put MANY, MANY AMERICANS, regardless of color in severe economic straits! These elite white men whose bombs pound various Third World nations, having killed millions of people in the last 20 years alone. These elitist white men who have historically run what the late, great Marine General Smedley D. Butler termed, “the swell racket…on behalf of the Wall Street boys”, where killing people of color in foreign lands was, y’know, just one of those things not talked about in the history books.

      “Alief” is just but one tangential symptom of this racket.

      • Dee July 20, 2012 12:10 am 

        Y’all are ALWAYS looking for an “out” and someone else to blame! Get over it, get a job and quit blaming white people you fool! And yes I DO have African American friends that I love dearly but I HATE ni$$ers just like I hate white trash, one in the same just different color skin so STOP USING YOUR DAM RACE CARD

      • Dee July 20, 2012 12:13 am 

        Are you saying there arent any wealthy blacks??? Please!!!!!!!!! You sound like you must be a relative of the freaking CRAZY JESSE JACKSON!!! ALWAYS STIRRING UP SHIT!!

    • Dee July 19, 2012 11:37 pm 


    • Dee July 19, 2012 11:38 pm 

      That was an AMEN to the original poster, Marianne not to the responder…

    • Dee July 27, 2012 1:09 am 

      Grew up there to in the ’70’s..Cant believe how they have destoryed a once prominent area!, Mind boggling… I think they should all be taken to an island surrounded by sharks with their guns and kill theirselves off….Sorry excuse of human beings, don’t work yet they can all buy guns, tattoos, etc… And to think of how many babies these worthless individuals have produced that I’m sure the Government pays to feed…..Get rid of them once and for all!

    • Angela D. October 27, 2012 11:43 pm 

      This is in response to – Marianne July 5, 2012 at 7:22 am. My mother moved me and my siblings to Alief in the ’70s. I graduated in the 80’s. I am black. While there weren’t many black families in Alief during the 70’s her comments are not correct on their being no blacks. None of my siblings or the other black families I knew committed crimes. Most blacks DO NOT commit crimes. I do think some parents of all backgrounds allow their children to grow up like weeds instead of having any type of discipline. Many children do not understand the consequences until it is too late. I obeyed my mother and understood to do the right thing. Nothing worth having comes easy. You have to work for it!

  3. Knowlton White July 5, 2012 8:03 am 

    I wanted to see the film before I read Mr. Sonoiki’s response. After viewing the disclaimer for myself (only 0:32 seconds) into the documentary, it was evident that at least some of the complaints may be coming from people who did not take the time to watch the documentary themselves. My hat goes off to Damilare for putting together a movie in a week for starters. As a teacher that grew up in non-ideal circumstances and went on to college, I applaud his drive at such a young age to find a way to give back to and uplift his community.No documentary covers every street or interviews every person. He did a very good job of letting us know about something the affects and matters to him and is going on in his neighborhood. As far as I can see, he did so in an objective and unbiased way. I wish him all the best.

  4. Debbie July 5, 2012 9:14 am 

    I moved from North Long Beach, CA to Houston in 1993, and have been in the Alief area ever since. I began at Bissonnet and South Glen and now, thankfully, am at Hwy 6 and Westpark where I’ve been for the past 10 years. This problem is situated in a small part of Alief, and it’s a shame to lump it in with the better parts. Still, Alief has nothing on North Long Beach/Compton, so don’t get too nervous.

  5. casey williams July 5, 2012 9:27 am 

    I would like to comment on the documentary about “The West”. Not only have I seen the film from beginning to end but my son as well as two of my god son’s were depicted in the film. I feel this is most definately a fair depection of life in Alief, Texas. The people that feel it is not fair to Alief must not really live in Alief. Just as it was told in the film not everyone in Alief is in a gang or click there are some people just trying to make it in Alief but even those people can’t close their eyes to what is going on around them. The facts are the facts. I would like to take my hat off to Mr. Sonoiki for making a film about the way it really is and not trying to suger coat it to be accepted. You see any time the “real ” side of things is shown you have blogs like this because people don’t want to exspose the truth. Thank you Mr. Sonoiki for “keeping it Real”.

    • Dee July 19, 2012 11:33 pm 

      You APPARENTLY dont know what Alief once was before all these THUGS took over! It was a upper class area with great schools so maybe if the THUGS leave it can be again…Wasnt a GANG in site nor EVEN heard of until yall took over…

  6. dervin July 7, 2012 2:20 pm 

    very accurate portrayal of apartment living on the sw. imagne this. you have 100 low rent apartments on he sw. 200 units each. each of these apartments has 10 men reppin their hood or block. thats 2000 of these fools on the sw. that leaves all the other people. its not unreasonable to see this.

  7. Anthony July 9, 2012 1:24 am 

    Harvard directory doesnt have a Damilare Sonoiki listed. Perhaps he’s under a different name…

  8. Charles July 9, 2012 4:27 pm 

    ^^Anthony….you are an idiot. He is a student at Harvard. No need to prove that. Look up the name. Number 2) This is not the TV show Suits…you watch too much televison. Number 3) Great Documentary highlighting what many people don’t want to see or are completely oblivious to

  9. Anthony July 9, 2012 10:42 pm 

    The public Harvard directory of (Harvard students, faculty, and staff members) doesnt have him listed.. “Look up the name.” https://www.directory.harvard.edu/phonebook/submitSearch.do
    There are valid reasons why a currently enrolled student would not be listed.

    In any case, it was an entertaining video. Definitely recommend anyone to watch it.

    • Dee July 19, 2012 11:49 pm 

      Sorry but as a longtime resident of Alief ( back before the thugs took over) wouldnt dare live there now….this video is dam sad…

  10. Maria July 10, 2012 11:35 pm 

    I, Too, grew up in Alief in the 70’s. There was crime….an actual school shooting in the cafeteria in 1978. It was NOT all white…my family, and others, are Hispanic. I was called a “wetback”, told to “go back to Mexico”, etc. I hate when people romanicize the past. There are good and bad in everything.

    • Tracy December 16, 2012 8:11 pm 

      I was in the cafeteria during the shooting and actually had blood splattered on my shirt. I have been able to find any info on that event? Do you know where I could learn more?

    • Paul October 16, 2013 3:34 pm 

      I was there too in 1978, my 2nd week at a new school. It was a big white guy last name Perry shot by a smaller hispanic guy last name Martinez and it was a dispute over a girl’s affections. I don’t recall her name. I was two tables away and remember thinking at first it was a fake/prank until I saw the blood.

  11. WhenAliefHadDirtRoads July 14, 2012 6:53 am 

    The video locked up at 20 minutes in. For what I was able to watch, I found it an interesting perspective of disrespect for each other. I would like to see another version showcasing the proud hardworking people of Alief, who inspite of living in this situation, make a positive difference in society. They call Alief the international corridor now. It’s no longer just white, Hispanic, or black, and it’s not all gangs, cliques, crime and drugs. I fear this point of view is glamorizing self segregation and justifying crime. Mr. Sonoiki, you are a great example of what can happen when someone has enough pride in themselves and courage to move past the thug life.

  12. Lori Dunn July 18, 2012 11:23 am 

    We need more leaders and not followers in Alief. To all those young men being taped in this video if you recognize there is no love from the police and others than you also should be able to recognize to stop feeling sorry for yourself and create change for yourself. Create something positive for the community, something that you can be proud of and represent the community in a better light. You can improve your community by simply cleaning up the streets and encourage other to stop throwing trash on the streets. It your community !!!

    • Dee July 19, 2012 11:27 pm 

      It’s their OWN fault whatever they get, they DESERVE! They have destroyed a once wonderful community. And btw I did grow up there and the police were very nice so if they have issues with them I’m sure it’s their fault!

  13. Dee July 19, 2012 11:16 pm 

    What in the he$$ did y’all do to my neighborhood??? This WAS a high class, top school district in the ENTIRE state of Texas…. And then came the “thuds” I guess… Sure wish y’all had not RUINED my childhood that once was the best place to live……………………….Go back where ya came from so Alief can be the Upstanding, wonderful community it used to be!!!!!!!!!!!! Sorry Bastards!

  14. Dee July 19, 2012 11:23 pm 

    And BTW there are thousands of “us” who lived the GREAT life in Alief and whose memories y’all have DESTORYED!!!!!!!!!!! We had a carefree, fun-loving happy life back then! I went by my old house recently and was DEVASTATED! Thanks, for RUINING so many’s memories of days lived happily!

  15. Dee July 19, 2012 11:45 pm 

    I used to LOVE Alief, it WAS my home! Thanks for destroying it and btw cops dont target people, if you live like your suppose to you dont have to worry about the police…ALWAYS have to blame someone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Who, “The white men” keep us down” lmao, really thats why you have the United Negro College Fund and all Black colleges! If there was an All White College Fund y’all be there killing everyone!!! Sick of it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Stop trying to pull your dam race card and using it as an excuse!

  16. Carl July 21, 2012 11:31 am 

    I grew up in Alief in the 70’s and 80’s the schools were fantastic and the area was very diverse mixed with people and cultures from all over the world. the police were very respectful to us and we were respectful to them. We had guns we just didn’t run around like idiots shooting at people. and we were better shooters than any of these idiots in this video.
    The film maker just helped drop property values of Alief homeowners making this film. they would rather sell drugs than get a job. we didn’t commit burglaries or commit crimes. its really a sad day when you don’t want to go home because of a bunch of uneducated idiots are running around ruining your old neighborhood. Alief use to be the best place to be now its a good place to avoid thanks to these idiots that don’t know how to behave.and look at the young looking up to the old – what an example your setting to the youth . Alief should be nuked

    • Dee July 27, 2012 12:48 am 


  17. Timi Tuamokumo July 27, 2012 10:37 am 

    I will like to comments on this DVD called Southwest Houston.I think this DVD is not a good desciption about Alief at all.I started in Alief at an early age at 3 or 4 years old back in 1987 before I started school on August of 1989 at Petrosky Elementary.This Dvd is not the real alief that I loose to see it.This is the bind side of alief now an days.I think the DVD shows the ignorant and the arrogance of the alief today an why the state of our beloved community is a stake.The filmaker supposed to be a Harvard students one of the smartest college in the United States.Why in the hell that the filimmaker show stupid DVD on the gangsta side of alief instead of the ethnic community side of alief which is been diversre for years.This makes other major cities like New york City or Chicago or major cities in this country an most area in houston is going to laugh the hell out of our community an say this is Alief and try to make alief an embarreased area in the United States What a Shame!!!!People are just laughing as us as alief original people who put the foundation of the alief area ways back in the days.I tell Alief people WAKE UP!!!!!I think this dvd should have not put this on you tube at all period I tell all alief resident deminish this DVD.I will like to comments on the contradiction about the alief area so mant years we did not get a good reputation from nobody at all in the city of Houston back in the days an today people an these corporate owned rapper in houston saying alief in not the real Southwest Houston it saying this or that.I will like to tell the alief community and resident stand up an fight these phony people who tries to talk down on the alief Area put the end to madness that going on in the world today.Thank you!!!!

  18. Timi tuamokumo July 27, 2012 11:59 am 

    My early comments has been knock down it seems people can’t handle the truth.

  19. Lori August 11, 2012 7:54 pm 

    It is the people in Alief that make it bad, but all people in Alief are not bad…There are many people here trying to make things better, I am one of them. I care about the community of Alief it is where my children attend school and my family lives…I am not ready to give up on Alief and fighting for it to improve, progress is slow but it is steady. I am curious…What is it that you see in Alief that needs to change? Is there anyone on here willing to come together, work in leadership and create change for Alief ? If so let me know I can direct you to the right people to get it done….!

    • monica peavy November 11, 2012 10:45 am 

      I would like to help make a change ..

    • Tiffany August 16, 2013 3:34 pm 

      I would like to help too! Anything to help make Alief better and safer for our kids is worth it.

  20. Bh31 November 20, 2012 9:58 pm 

    I teach in southwest houston the harps town area, it has nothing I do with race it is lower income and not always the parents fault some of those people have risked their lives to give their children a better life and it is a few bad eggs that pull in the easily influenced middle school aged students and convince them that is the way to go.. I see wanna bed, gangsters, and kids walking the line every day and even at the young age of ten in 6th grade. It is more of a generational problem because the majority school age children these days do not think they should have to work for anything they feel entitled to EVERYTHING and once again it is not everyone but it is enough to make certain communities look bad. I do believe that educating the people around it is important because a lot of kids get in to deep before they realize what it is all about and then they don’t have a choice. The more positive things you can do for the community the better our school has after school programs until 6 and the students are there Saturdays from 9-12:30… Keeping kids off the street and supporting them is the answer… It won’t fix everything but you can prevent the kids who really don’t want to end up that way no matter what they say

  21. bryan November 21, 2012 8:55 am 

    when I was young, I used to hang in alief. their is alot of ignorance on these comments. as long as I have been living alief has always had crime! there really wasnt enough people to have much crime there in the 70’s. apartments breed crime, and when they started building apartments all over the sw crime shot up, AND IT WASNT JUST BLACK PEOPLE! I had friends who sold dope out there and most of their customers were white…there are WELL organized asian gangs…BD/GD from chicago set up shop out there and from what I could see it wasnt set up alonh color lines…i knew a white boy who claimed GD…there are hispanic gangs out there….i could go on but dont put it on just ‘black’ people. what is bellaire street called know? THE INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT! which means there is very very colorful crime going on out there. the film producer just shot from HIS perspective…

  22. Errol Jones November 26, 2012 9:28 am 

    I have worked and/or lived in Alief since 1990. I teach in the AISD. While there are problems in the neighborhoods of Alief, the most dangerous gang members work on the board and hold the highest paying jobs in the district. Alief is undergoing change. It is a 98% minority district. On last year according to statistics reported by Alief to the EEOC, 40 Anglo teachers/paraprofessionals were hired and 70 Hispanics were released. The district has engaged in suing a minority family for $250,000 for questioning the education of their autistic child. The leadership reassigned an Anglo coach accused of killing his wife and child from his high school position to an alternative school elementary classroom. Alief is experiencing a leadership crisis. The previous superintendent resigned after pleading guilty to ethics commission violations. We are continuing our investigation of the report of a “white supremacy group” operating in Alief ISD administration. We are submitting a report to law enforcement. The alleged group goal is to “take the district back for White people”. Read more at http://www.heat.groupsite.com or listen to http://www.HoustonIsTalking.com.

  23. Errol Jones November 26, 2012 9:29 am 

    Alief is a good school district. They have been able to control the stories released to the public in the past, but unable to do so today. This is a major reason you may be surprised by the reports.

  24. Errol Jones November 26, 2012 9:37 am 

    I have the names of the people implicated in the “white supremacist” group, “the Rat Pack”. I will submit the names to Mr. Carey upon request. There are 3 Anglo males identified and continuing as administrators in Alief.

    At one school, one of the suspected racist group members, the one that reportedly made the comments on the goals of the “Rat Pack, a Black pregnant teacher left and was replaced by an Anglo male, a Black female home economics teacher left and was replaced by a white male, a Hispanic department chair left and was replaced by a white male, a Black special education teacher was removed from his position for “whistle-blowing” and was replaced by a white male,
    the Hispanic principal was replaced by the white male reportedly making the racist remarks in a small group of white males. Look at the statistics and activities in Alief and you will understand why the news about Alief ISD is about to be central to reforming education in Texas.

  25. intimidated teacher December 6, 2012 2:06 am 

    Great post Errol. how many hours do they let you use the internet in the mental asylum?
    We all heard you had to be checked into a psychiatric ward…keep us updated on your website!

  26. aldo December 16, 2012 1:17 pm 

    This video only shows a few kid w guns . It doesn’t show the neighborhoods like happy homes, beckford, beckford place, town park, club creek, and so many other hoods were gangs have managed to settle and grow. It doesn’t show the Hispanic side of alief or the Asian. Alief dosent only have black ppl or is ran by them ither. It also dosent show how f #*@ up the streets are. It’s hard to drive without hitting a pot hole. Or the graffiti that has come to be part of the scene . Alief has been home to my family for 30 years and will be for many years to come. It would be nice to see the real alief and the real gang , gun, and drug problems that just dnt seem to get any better and probably won’t.

  27. Roy Lane June 5, 2013 4:26 pm 

    I attended Elsik High School around the corner from Haystings and Elsik was bad .

  28. Jay July 19, 2013 4:22 pm 

    You guys say it was a good area in the 70’s, I was way off the mark. I moved to Alief in 97 for high school, I went to Elsik, so I wouldn’t have to go to Lee high. I’m so glad I didn’t have to go to Lee! Anyways Elsik was very diverse and the academics were much better than HISD. When I got to Elsik coming from Sharpstown middle school. I was surprised to see that a lot of people had moved from the other side of the beltway just like me. Never the less, it wasn’t that bad, there were some ghetto kids and there were a lot of preps. I would say it was equally divided, maybe a quarter of the students were white, a quarter black, Hispanic and Asian. I noticed here and there a white family would move to Katy or Sugar Land. Now I still live in Alief and it’s changed since even then. It use to be okay, when I say okay I mean regular not rich nor poor, fairly safe with just a couple of bad areas. But now the whole thing has gone to shit. A good 90% of is hood with a couple of okay areas like the opposite of when I got here.

  29. alief1995 August 1, 2013 11:53 am 

    I lived in Alief from the time I was born until I finished college. I lived off Cook Road and attended Alief schools starting in kindergarten in the early 1980’s. To this day, I still know many families and have friends living in the area, and go back fairly often. I am proud to say I am from Alief.

    Yes, the neighborhood has changed. I remember when roads didn’t go far past Dairy Ashford and the Beltway didn’t exist. I remember several farms and lots of open land and wooded areas. I remember when it was not much different from any other small town. However, like any other city with rapid growth, things change. Crime isn’t anything new to the suburbs, and Alief isn’t the only suburb that has experienced “growing pains.” Check out the increase in crime in areas of Fort Bend, Katy, Spring, not to mention Houston neighborhoods undergoing sudden resurgences like Midtown, Oak Forest and The Heights. With more people living in more highly concentrated situations, come more disputes and crime. (Obviously population density is not the only factor: http://www.sascv.org/ijcjs/harries.html; http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/about/variables_affecting_crime.html)

    I am not exactly happy that Alief has seen waves in crime over the years, but I also realize that it’s nothing new. Parts of Alief have had a reputation for criminal activity for as long as I can remember.

    The other side of the coin reveals a different Alief. It IS an international district. We knew people of different cultures and faith and didn’t give it a second thought. It IS a business district. The diversity and entrepreneurial spirit has given Alief some of the most unique dining and shopping options in the city. It’s not a place to be afraid of.

    I appreciated the words from those shown in the film regarding education. Maybe Alief ISD is not as respected as it once was, but the guys in the film seem realize that you have to make the best of what you are given. I hope that the words they shared at the end of the film were true – that they are looking out for the next generation of Alief residents and showing the the right way.

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