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.
“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?