Warning: Slight spoilers for Reprisal are ahead.
We still have more questions than answers about the world of Reprisal, Hulu's new noir revenge-fantasy series, even after watching it. Is it supposed to take place now? In the 1950s but with cell phones? Whose side are we supposed to be on? And are there, or were there, gangs like the Banished Brawlers in real life?
We can, at least, attempt to answer that last question. The story follows Doris (Abigail Spencer), who used to be known as Katherine, before her brother Burt (Rory Cochrane) and his gang, the Banished Brawlers, had her dragged by a truck through a field and left her for dead. She would very much like to get back at him for that.
"I think it was also Shakespeare who said, 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,' " producer Warren Littlefield (Handmaid's Tale) told Entertainment Weekly earlier this year. "We have hell, we have fury, in a world that no one's ever seen before. I think that's what we're all saying is that it's world building. The specificity of our world really defines the show."
Statements like that suggest we're far beyond any grounding in real stories. Rather than true crime shows, headlines, or history books, writer-creator Josh Corbin and the cast have often cited references like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, David Lynch, and the South Korean revenge pic Oldboy. If you dig a little deeper, those directors often turned to older crime movies for their influence — going back to 1954's On the Waterfront and the James Cagney gangster films of the '30s.
The official description of Reprisal calls the Brawlers a "gang of gearheads," which we can tell by their love of hot rods and retro mechanics' shirts. Their "greaser" look calls to mind even more fictional images from Grease, Rebel Without a Cause, The Outsiders, and West Side Story. There's maybe even some of Riverdale's South Side Serpents in the mix — we can totally see Rodrigo Santoro's Joel being Jughead's long-lost uncle! But beneath all those layers, there is a foundation of reality, because gangs and organized crime aren't just plot devices made for TV and movies.
The Brawlers' penchant for running strip clubs, laundering money, and murdering their enemies certainly harkens to criminal organizations of the past and present. There are a couple of gangs in the South with mostly white members that the Brawlers could be modeled after. According to experts, 53 percent of gang affiliates in Mississippi are white. They aren't necessarily white supremacist groups like the Aryan brotherhood, either. The Simon City Royals, for example, claim to be open to people of all ethnicities and are allied with some Black and Latin gangs, even though most members are white. Formed in Chicago in the '50s, the gang has now spread south to Mississippi and north to Wisconsin. (And you, too, can follow them on Facebook...) They're big in prison, but also allegedly do their fair share of drug trafficking, robbery, extortion, prostitution, and murder.
There's also the wide-reaching Dixie Mafia, which is based in Mississippi but supposedly also operates in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. The FBI calls them a "loose confederation of thugs and crooks." Among its most notorious crimes was a scam in the '80s when Louisiana State Penitentiary prisoners would place ads in gay magazines, luring in correspondents whom the prisoners would then ask for money for plane fare or legal expenses that was transferred into the gang's coffers. Dixie Mafia members also have been known to operate strip clubs, gambling rings, major robberies, and drug deals.
Our favorite model for the Brawlers, however, are the über-stylish rockabilly-worshipping gangs of Paris in the 1980s. These were youth-oriented gangs that didn't function at all like the criminals of Reprisal, but damn, they could wear the heck out of those sideburns, short-sleeve button-downs and leather jackets.
Were any of these real-life gangs the subject of a riveting revenge-plot by a member's scorned sister? If so, the official FBI reports and news stories are missing such juicy details. For that, we'll have to rely on works of fiction.