At this point, we already know everything there is to know about the LA riots. This documentary isn’t, however, a retelling of events or a surprising new discovery; LA 92 takes us back to the 1965 riots in Watts and to the more recent 1992 Rodney King riots in an effort to draw allusions to the current racial unrest happening across the US. Although not revolutionary in content, the potency of this documentary lies in its emotional impact and its timing in American history.
The collection of archival footage seems eerily familiar. It could easily be images from the Civil Rights Movement of the fifties and sixties, or just as easily footage from Ferguson, Missouri a couple of years ago. Perhaps the most essential thing to recognise and take out of the 1992 riots is the fact that it was an issue that had been building up for quite some time. In terms of racial tension and incidences of police brutality, Rodney King was not the beginning, he was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. The film doesn’t skimp on violent and disturbing images of the ensuing carnage and it certainly drives home the message that the issue will never truly be put to rest unless faced head on. However, a little more attention could have been paid to the exploration of how tensions came to be at such a powder-keg state. Directors Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin do a fair job of giving the audience the necessary historical context but to truly understand on an empathetic level why this happened and how we could best prevent it in the future, we have to look further back than just the 1965 riots.
This documentary begs the question What is a black life worth? if, in the case of Latasha Harlin, who was shot to death over a box of orange juice and whose murder was captured on videotape, the punishment is a mere fine and community service hours; if, in the case of Rodney King, whose violent beating by police officers was also immortalised on film, there are no guilty verdicts, no justice served. As the Frederick Douglass quote in the beginning encourages, we look back on LA’s tumultuous racial past in order to help us look forward. The Latasha Harlins and Rodney Kings of yesterday are the Trayvon Martins and Michael Browns of today. It’s a delicate suggestion, but a clear allusion nonetheless, that unless something radical is done, that unless reparations are paid, that unless racism in the US is properly addressed, the past is very well likely to repeat itself. LA 92 is a chilling warning to us all.
LA 92 is released in selected cinemas on 21st April 2017.
Watch the trailer for LA 92 here: