“LA 92” (2017)
Running Time: 114 minutes
Directed by: Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin
Featuring: George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Pete Wilson, Daryl Gates, Joyce Karlin, Rodney King, Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell
Congresswoman Maxine Waters: “This is what you get with video of a killing.”
This is actually the first of at least two high profile documentaries about the LA riots of 1992 that are or have been released this year.
It may be hard to believe but this year is the twenty fifth anniversary of the LA riots that took place after the acquittal of a number of policemen that savagely beat Rodney King, even though he offered no resistance or fought back during the savage beating. It may seem like common place now with many acts of violence captured on camera as well as police assaulting African Americans but in 1992 this was unique. The element of this that was unforgivable was the evidence of the the videotape was ignored by the white jury in the trial. It opened wounds that had never healed or gone way that dealt with cultural as well as race issues, which have infested the US for over four hundred years.
This documentary seeks to, in a short span of time, deal with some of the social elements as well as actions of many people involved with the riots as well as the Rodney King trial, all within archive footage of which there must be hundreds of hours. The directors Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin, have made the bold choice not to interview people that may have been key to the events that unfolded or even normal people. Instead they have marshaled news footage from the time, including behind the scenes footage as well as other non broadcast footage to paint a picture of the days after the Rodney King beating when the riots occurred. This makes “LA 92″(2017) a thrilling, touching as well as ultimaltely sad document about those few days in 1992, reflecting deep seated issues that still exist tpday.
“LA 92” features interviews with historians, journalists, and key figures involved in the events, the documentary chronicles the 1992 Los Angeles riots after 25 years have passed. The film includes footage from the Rodney King videotape and the subsequent riots and violence that erupted after the acquittal of the officers involved in King’s beating. The riots lasted six days, while the documentary traces the decades-long aftermath and legacy.
The archival footage includes interviews with U.S. Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, California governor Pete Wilson, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department Daryl Gates, judge Joyce Karlin, victim Rodney King, and acquitted police officers Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell.
It cannot be underestimated how important the footage of the Rodney King beating was not only to civil rights, but to the exposure of the corrupt LA Police as well as the media in general, which led directly to how newsgathering would be shaped for the next twenty five years. One need only look at social media as well as the publication of videos that initially complemented the fouth estate but have quickly gone on to replace it. This has led to a democratization of the news media as well as showing that anyone with a camera can not only report on events but can shape the conversation on important topics – much like that cameraman did when he recorded the brutal beating given to King by the LA policeman.
One of the interesting aspects of this documentary is that it does attempt to take a side, although it is obvious to me that like many people then as well as now the acquittal of the police officers was a travesty that led directly to the riots. We see the narrative unfold through not only news reports but also interviews of people of the time as well as footage of people reacting to the rioting and looting, we see it played out from multiple points of view and perspectives.
In terms of the look of the documentary it feels like a document of the time, as there is no footage-filmed post 1992. In other words the visual motif makes you feel like you are watching it in the time it was filmed, it is a real experience not seeing footage in high definition but on video tape, film is not even used, it is a wise decision as it also lends some legitimacy to the documentary – not that it needs it as the footage speaks for itself.
The documentary also focuses on the racial divide in LA not only between black and white but also the growing Asian-American population that was starting to increase as immigration was on the increase, and African Americans were seeing their foothold in communities starting to slip. Of course this meant that economically and politically there was a power shift in communities. That led to a powder keg where all that was needed was a spark which was the Rodney King beating which meant that everything that was bubbling below the surface exploded. What is incredible is that news organizations of the time captured all of this so it was waiting for two directors to put it all together add a narrative and show what had happened on the ground.
I recommend this documentary highly, it is a must watch for anyone that has a thirst for knowledge as well as civil rights – if you have not seen this you should go and find it now.
“LA 92” is out now on DVD.