Noah Thompson’s review published on Letterboxd:
"We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future." - Frederick Douglas
As LA 92 progressed, I found myself repeating one word to myself over and over.
LA 92 joins the ranks of films like Fury and Three Billboards in their incredible portrayals of mob mentality, brutality, and the inherent violence latent within all human beings. Yet, a defining difference comes from one truth: Fury and Three Billboards are works of fiction, which is something one can take comfort in when the events portrayed become too extreme. LA 92 is tragically, terrifyingly real. There is nothing to hide behind. Reality rears its ugly face, the ugliness of the real world often far outweighing the ugliness of fiction.
The film takes the unique approach of structuring itself with only archival footage, recordings, and an orchestral score. (My only major complaint towards the film being that the score can be overly and unnecessarily emotional at times. The images speak for themselves.) There are no modern-day interviews. No re-enactments. Everything you experience is completely true and of the era when it happened. The film does an incredible job of displaying the proper context of these events, the first act mainly serving as set-up for the riots. From talking about a prior riot in 1965, their connections becoming more clear at the conclusion, to the discussion of two court cases: The beating of Rodney King by police, and the shooting of Latasha Harlins. LA 92 pulls no punches, showing footage recovered from both of the prior incidents, as well as actual recordings from people on the streets during the riots.
Four moments in particular stand out to me. The first is a Korean woman standing in front of a broken entrance to a store. She stands with her arms stretched wide, attempting to stop any looters from going in. She repeats the same phrase over and over: "This is America". The second is an older black man on the verge of tears walking the streets as young black men raid the surrounding stores. Through his cracked voice, he demands to know what they think they're doing. Why are they doing what they're doing? How will this benefit their community? (This particular moment as well as the one following this almost moved me to tears.) The third is a press statement from Rodney King. As he goes to speak, images are interspersed of graffiti claiming that this was all done for King. Not an act of greed and selfishness, but a rage-filled act from the lack of justice he was given. Rodney's response is short yet powerful, himself also on the verge of tears. One particular phrase stuck out to me: "Can't we all just get along?". The fourth, being the actual final moment of the film, connects the 1965 Watts riots to what occurred here. Images, footage, and words are intersected. Exact events correlate. Some of the exact same words are spoken. History repeated itself. And it would repeat itself again.
I should say that I am one who firmly beliefs in the Gandhi saying "An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind". Hate and violence cannot be vanquished through more hate and violence. It's the equivalent of believing that you can put out a fire by adding more wood to the pile. How do you put out a fire? You use the opposite of fire, being water. Therefore, how do you stop hate and violence? Love and peace. The events which occurred before the riots were horrid. Neither King nor Harlins were served justice. The injustice does not stop there. We are a nation that is rooted in oppression. We are sadly here as a mix of the bravery of some and the evil of others. We cannot change the past as it is exactly that. Past. As Mr. Frederick Douglas states above, the only thing we can do, the thing that we have to do is this: Recognize the sins of yesterday, so that we can make the change today to have a better tomorrow. LA 92 is an essential viewing that the whole family should experience. (No, I do not mean that ironically.)