By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
Using only archive material drawn from more than 1,000 hours of powerful footage, “LA 92” reconstructs the tumultuous days that changed America. “LA 92” premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21, followed by a multi-city tour, theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles and broadcast debut on National Geographic.
Ferguson. Baltimore. Sanford, Florida. The Los Angeles riots may have taken place a quarter century ago, but the nation continues to find itself in a cycle of heated discussion over racial oppression, police brutality and socioeconomic inequality. Now, 25 years later, National Geographic Documentary Films presents “LA 92,” a riveting look back at the controversial Rodney King trial and subsequent protests, violence and looting of the city. Viewed from a multitude of vantage points through visceral and rarely seen archival footage, the film brings a fresh perspective to a pivotal moment that reverberates to this day.
My mouth continually dropped while watching this movie. I was aware of things that were happening in Los Angeles on the heels of the Rodney King beating, trial and verdict, but I don’t recall in the slightest the news reels and accounts of a city that was for all purposes on fire. To this date, these events have been the most widespread act of racial violence in the nation’s history.
And while the cities may have changed with the methods of police brutality, another constant in “LA 92” is Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), who covered the district in South Central Los Angeles at the time where many of these events shown in the movie took place. She was a powerhouse then, and she is still a powerhouse.
These are some quotes from subjects either interviewed in the documentary or those who were speaking in a position of authority:
One of the police officers who was associated with the Rodney King beating: “It was right out of ‘Gorillas in the Mist’.”
Bill Stout of CBS News: “We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t cure the sickness in our cities.”
Police Chief William Parker referred to Blacks as “Monkeys in a zoo.”
A Black man being interviewed by news media: “Tired of being pushed around by you white people.”
Attorney Newsome: “It’s not respect for law and order, but respect for law enforcement.”
Said Lightbox producers Jonathan Chinn and Simon Chinn: “Race relations is America’s Achilles heel. The production of this film might mark the 25th anniversary of this seminal uprising, but these kinds of events still recur, and we are still dealing with their root causes. Our goal with ‘LA 92’ is to reframe the story of this tragedy for a modern audience, and we hope it will encourage reflection and debate, as we wrestle with these very real conflicts that continue to plague America’s cities.”
Furthering the national conversation, National Geographic has also partnered with Picture Motion to provide free screenings of the film to colleges and universities nationwide, and they developed a robust free discussion guide to accompany the film. Using no narration or talking head interviews, the filmmakers decided to take a bold approach: to reconstruct the tumultuous events that unfolded in 1992 by exclusively using archival foot- age and photographs. Footage from the Los Angeles First AME Church that supported many victims of the violence, to materials from the Los Angeles police and fire departments, to video from contemporaneous news broadcasts from LA-based Korean-language television stations, “LA 92” takes viewers out of the prism of their own cultural, racial and political perspectives and allows them to see the events of 1992 in a new light. The film captures the shock, disappointment and fury felt by many Los Angelenos, particularly those in the African-American community, following the outcomes of two back-to-back and highly publicized trials.
In November 1991, a 51-year-old Korean convenience store owner, who was convicted of fatally shooting 15-year-old African-American teenager Latasha Harlins, was given no jail time by white Los Angeles Judge Joyce Karlin. The verdict had dictated jail time, but the judge reversed that decision.
Six months later, four police officers who were caught on videotape brutally beating unarmed Black motorist Rodney King were acquitted of assault by a predominantly white Simi Valley jury. The King verdict sparked a wave of violent protests, looting and arson that lasted several days and left more than 50 people dead, thousands injured and large swaths of Los Angeles — including many Korean-American-owned businesses — in ruins. And in the case of the King beating, it was the first time the kind of abuse many had witnessed or experienced at the hands of LAPD officers was recorded and broadcast for the world to see. This left many with the sense that if justice did not prevail despite such graphic evidence, it never would.
“LA 92” makes its television broadcast debut on National Geographic on Sunday, April 30, at 9/8c and will also air globally in 171 countries and 45 languages. The film is produced by two-time Academy Award® winner Simon Chinn and Emmy® award-winner Jonathan Chinn, with original music by acclaimed composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. This film is a must see, whether in the theatre or when it airs on television. For more information, visit http://- channel.nationalgeographic.com/la- 92/videos/la-92-a-first-look/
Columnist’s Note: In an April 8 article titled “Distinguished Elder and retired educator Elder Edgar Roulhac Sr., honored at GBM,” the year of Dr. Edgar Roulhac’s retirement should have been 2012, not 1992. I apologize for this error.