Magazine article Variety

The 1992 L.A. Riots, a Quarter-Century Later

Magazine article Variety

The 1992 L.A. Riots, a Quarter-Century Later

Article excerpt

TV REVIEWS

The 1992 L.A. Riots, a Quarter-Century Later

Documentaries: L.A. Burning; Burn, Motherf**cker, Burn; The Lost Tapes: L.A. Riots; Let It Fall; LA 92

On March 3, 1991, in an incident that became national news, white bystander George Holliday filmed several Los Angeles police officers savagely beating an unarmed black man named Rodney King. Despite the brutality caught on tape, King's assailants were all acquitted, 25 years ago, on April 29, 1992 - sparking upheaval and violence in South Central L.A. that caused 54 deaths and $1 billion in property damage.

The anniversary has compelled several filmmakers to look back on those transformative, pivotal events. Like other events in recent history, such as the well-rendered treatments of the O.J. Simpson trial, the problem with telling the story of the 1992 unrest is not a lack of information but a deluge of it. The much-reproduced and still-horrifying grainy footage of King's beating is the foundation for each of these films, from the hour-long installment of Smithsonian's "The Lost Tapes" (which has covered other major events) to the clear masterpiece of the bunch, John Ridley's "Let It Fall." What's intriguing about all five of these documentaries is how much each reinforces the value of the others. There is a range of production values and overall quality, but each finds a way to tap into a particular angle of events - whether by eyewitness accounts, never-before-released recordings, extraordinary editing, or historical framing. Despite sharing essentially the same material, the five films are all quite different.

"LA 92," on National Geographic, is constructed entirely of archival footage, edited together with rigorous precision. "Burn, Motherf**ker, Burn!" on Showtime, begins by offering up a history of the 1965 Watts riots - demonstrating how the events of 1992 were so deeply rooted in how South Central Los Angeles and the LAPD clashed nearly 30 years prior. In discussing the murder of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by Korean shopkeeper Soon Ja Du, the film listens to "Black Korea" by Ice Cube, released in 1991.

Less affecting, but still intriguing: "The Lost Tapes," which emphasizes information previously unseen and unheard - including, most affectingly, a litany of recordings from KJLH in Compton. Similarly, John Singleton's "L.A. Burning" on A&E doesn't feel vital in its retelling, but gets intriguing once it moves past the riots to focus on a question hanging over the story of 1992: How does a black man reconcile these truths and survive in this world? …

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