As the country prepares to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising in April, we can now count 7 projects on the subject that are at some stage of development, set to premiere over the next month, or some time later this year.
First, Showtime’s new feature-length documentary “Burn Motherf*cker, Burn!”, directed by Sacha Jenkins (“Fresh Dressed”), will explore the complicated relationship between the Los Angeles Police Department and the city’s black and minority communities, tracing a throughline from the 1962 ransacking of a Los Angeles Nation of Islam mosque (which left many injured and one man dead), to the 1965 Watts riots, the rise of L.A. street gangs in the 1970s and ’80s, and the Rodney King beating in 1991.
There’s also writer/director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s English-language feature film debut, “Kings,” which stars Halle Berry, in a story set during the 1992 Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of the police officers charged with the excessive beating of Rodney King. Berry plays a mother living in South Central, Los Angeles, where the riots began; Daniel Craig plays a white male neighbor and love interest to Berry’s character.
John Ridley is working on a feature length documentary for ABC about the racial tensions in Los Angeles in the ’80s and early ’90s, pegged to the 25th anniversary of the 1992 riots. The two-hour doc, “Let It Fall: LA 1982-1992,” will get a theatrical release before it airs on ABC in spring 2017.
A&E will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots next month with a two-hour documentary co-produced by John Singleton. Titled “L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later,” A&E has set an April 18 premiere for the film which will chronicle the civil unrest that shook the nation, telling the story from the POV of those who lived through it all, including police officers, rioters, bystanders caught in the crossfire, and the reporters who covered the chaos.
And the Smithsonian Channel will revisit the chaotic days following the April 29, 1992 Rodney King verdict, incorporating powerful media coverage, home videos, gripping photographs and LAPD recordings, in the April 23 installment of its documentary series, “The Lost Tapes.” The documentary also includes some never-before-heard Los Angeles Fire Department dispatch calls, in which firefighters in the field are desperately pleading for police backup as they were being fired upon. Promising “the ultimate in authentic storytelling,” as well as a “unique and immersive approach,” the film features no interviews or recreations – just the story as captured by video cameras and media reports at the time.
Also National Geographic Documentary Films presents “LA 92,” a riveting look back at the controversial Rodney King trial and subsequent protests, violence and looting of the city. Viewed from a multitude of vantage points through visceral and rarely seen archival footage, the film brings a fresh perspective to a pivotal moment that reverberates to this day. Using no narration or talking head interviews, the filmmakers decided to take a bold approach: to reconstruct the tumultuous events that unfolded in 1992 by exclusively using archival footage and photographs. Culling thousands of hours of visceral broadcast news footage, radio reports, police files and personal home videos – some of which have never been broadcast – the filmmakers tell the story through a variety of different points of view and perspectives and set it all to a rich orchestral score composed by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans.
And finally, Spike Lee directed a taping of Roger Guenveur Smith’s one-man Rodney King show, which was picked up by Netflix to premiere on April 28 – a date that coincides with what will be the 25th anniversary of the acquittals of the LAPD officers who were videotaped brutally beating King in 1991.
Titled “Rodney King,” the work is an adaptation of Smith’s Bessie Award-winning stage production of the same name, and is the latest addition to a distinguished body of historically inspired work which also includes “Frederick Douglass Now,” “Who Killed Bob Marley?,” “In Honor of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” “The Watts Towers Project,” and more.
In the piece, promising a collision of history, poetry, and tragedy, Smith tackles the harrowing odyssey of Rodney King, from the national spotlight as the victim of police brutality, to his involuntary martyrdom that ignited the L.A. riots, to his lonely death at the bottom of a swimming pool.
“Rodney King” is described as “a rhythm-driven mix of improvised movement and theatre, spoken word poetry” and, as Smith himself describes it, a “post-mortem interview with the man himself.”
He’s been performing the show at theaters across the nation since 2013.
Netflix’s “Rodney King” – which Spike Lee filmed last August (2016) in New York City – is produced by Steven Adams and Bob L. Johnson for Luna Ray Media. Matthew Helderman, Luke Taylor, and Patrick DePeters are executive producing for Buffalo 8 Productions.
Netflix has released a first trailer for the project which is embedded below: