It’s been 20 years since the Los Angeles riots exposed deep-seated police misconduct and racial tensions that plagued the city for many years.

In 1992, after the officers involved in beating Rodney King senseless were found not guilty, the city erupted in widespread protests and flames.

Although I was a young girl, I remember the day vividly. I grew up just a mile from Florence and Normandie, the epicenter of the riots, and can still feel the tension that permeated the streets on April 29, 1992 like it was yesterday.

For many in LA, and across the country, both the warning shots and the soundtrack to the riots came from hip hop. For years, rap music talked of the oppressive tactics of police and how–if pushed hard enough–people would revolt in anger.

Recently, a film about hip hop and the LA riots screened at the SXSW film festival, and judging by the conversations it sparked, it’s clear the riots are still a sensitive topic.

After the screening of the film–which was narrated by Snoop Dogg and told from the perspective of rappers and those involved in the uprising–one Korean filmmaker took offense at the way Koreans were portrayed in the film. Although they were not the main subject of the film, David Kim was aghast by a few scenes depicting Koreans in an unfavorable light.

Colorlines reports:

“You just showed Koreans with guns,” said a visibly upset David Kim during a Q&A session with the director after the screening. Kim is the co-Director of the Korean American Film Festival New York.

“I can’t believe this is going to air on VH1 and that you’re going to put the Korean perspective in that kind of light. You’re putting a freaking target on the Korean community—I’m really fucking upset,” Kim went on to tell the director in front of the audience.

Kim stood in front of the microphone for close to 3-minutes and went on to tell the director about other documentaries about the L.A. riots from a Korean-American perspective like Dai Sil Kim-Gibson’s films “Sai-I-Gu” and “Wet Sand.”

“The point of view of this film is to tell the point of view of hip hop and how the hip hop community and the people that believed in that film reacted,” director Mark Ford told Kim.

While I understand Kim’s sensitivity to how Koreans are depicted in the film, to be fair, the tension between black residents in South Central and Korean business owners DID play a part in the ferocity of the riots.

Just a year before (and just weeks after the Rodney King beating), Latasha Harlins–a 15-year-old girl who went to school with my brother–was murdered by a Korean store owner after being accused of stealing. The startling murder was caught on tape, enraging many, but tension only increased when her killer was sentenced to five years probation, instead of the prison sentence the D.A. requested. So for Kim to diminish the contentious nature of the times simply because Koreans were depicted firing guns is a bit one-sided.

But if nothing else, Kim and Ford’s conversation shows that the feelings and emotions surrounding the LA Riots are strong and very complicated–even 20 years later.

The film, “Uprising: Hip Hop & The LA Riots” will air on VH1 on May 1 at 9 p.m.

What are your memories of the LA riots? What will you be tuning in?

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  • Yb

    David Kim needs to get of his high horse and suck it up. Black people have portrayed poorly for decades, yet this man wants to get mad at the image of a Korean holding a gun.
    -___- Kim needs to quit playing dumb and stop acting like Korean store owners do not treat their black customers as lesser.

    As for the riots I remember my parents telling me that they were out of town when it happened, and glad they missed being apart of it.

    • I grew up in Koreatown, Los Angeles. I stood on the corner and watched white college kids try to burn down the 711 next door to my parents house. What I wish both sides would remember is little Latasha. She became the symbol for me when I was 12 years old and saw her shot in the back in that fuzzy Empire Liquore store security footage. We need to all have perspective, there were messed up things happening to both Korean and African Americans at the time. I wish LA could honor Latasha every March 16th but it’s been 21 years and we still do not do her any honor by trying to come together as a city.


    i remember the riots clearly also, I was 9 at the time and they burned places near my area too which is not near florence and normandie, the whole city burned. I will definitely be watching this. As for Mr Kim how many times have they shown black people in a negative light during the riots? I know the riot was the results of tensions b/w koreans, blacks and law enforcement, but in all these years i only ever see the “looters” being discussed as blacks. Ive nevr seen mentions of all the mexicans that were out here too, its as if they didnt exist in the riots. Mr kim needs to take a look at all aspects is my point

  • apple

    i didn’t know the riots were like this.. when i saw things about this event i only saw clips of it, never from this angle..can’t wait to see
    and david kim sit down, nobody is going to look at koreans in a bad light or even remember them being in the doc

  • omfg

    i’m from l.a. and grew up in the heart of where a lot of this went down.

    what bugs me so much about this is the continued depiction of this merely being about blacks and koreans. the majority of the people arrested for rioting were latino. yes, latino.

    this is according to a rand study.

    it bothers me because 1) it continues to vilify blacks and 2) because it glosses over the tensions that exist between latinos (mexicans and central americans) and asians (koreans).

    trust, they say echo the same experiences with koreans as blacks. the difference is they are more likely to live near koreans (in koreatown) and work for them in their restaurants and other businesses. they don’t just deal with koreans as customers (like blacks), they deal with them as employees and neighbors as well.

    the reality is this is a black/latino/korean issue. but, we like to focus on the evil black people. just remember, latinos were a significant to majority of the population in that part of town at the time then. they were out there being pissed off too.

    • seventeen

      Exactamundo!, very good reply, omfg.

  • adriane

    It is the African American Civil Rights Movement that made our nation even remotely hospitable to Latinos and Koreans in the first place. These racial/ethnic groups would not even bother to migrate to the US without the ongoing, crushing and painful sacrifices made by African Americans. We broke our backs, got hosed, bitten by dogs, lynched, burned, shot etc… so that new migrant groups could live freely here in this great country. The Korean community forgets that it is African Americans who built the very freedoms in this country that allow them to pick up a gun and defend their business against us in the first place. Maybe they should spend a moment away from the cash register and read a history book. It would do them some good.

    • Gee Chee Vision

      Good point. I would say however that there is some historical attempt to have solidarity between blacks & Latinos as oppose to other groups.