In 1992 I was 14, nearly 15 years old when the LA protest occurred after the jury trial acquitted four police officers of the Los Angeles Police Department for the excessive force and beating of Rodney King. The incident was videotaped. I was studying for my end of year 1 GSCE’s exams in London and everyone in the UK was shocked by the outcome of the case; but not shocked by incidents that followed.
Anna Deavere Smith (who is a recurring guest star in ABC’s Blackish) took first hand accounts of people living and working in the South LA at the time. She took 21 accounts from community leaders, Korean shopkeepers, and other witnesses who saw the beating, police officers and ordinary citizens who were living or working in the area; she created a one women verbatim theatre piece. Nina Bowers is young woman tasked with sharing all 21 accounts with the audience.
The Gate Theatre is perfect space for this type of production because is so small and intimate. Therefore it is easy to created the pressure keg that was LA in 1992. The space is set in the ‘round and seating was quite close together; the use of orange, red and blue strobe lighting with the 90s soundtrack helped to created the heat and expectation of justice.
Upon entering the audience was asked to writing down what issue or aspect they like to discuss in relation to race and justice; a show of hands was required for whether they would treat a person different based on their race and whether they had heard of Latasha Harlins or Rodney King. The shooting of Latasha Harlins murder was an eye opener for me because most of us think that the LA protests/riots was solely about the police treatment of Rodney King, but it’s also about the lack of justice for murder of 15 year old Latasha Harlins.
The accounts from the Korean shopkeeper were very interesting. Many Koreans felt that they haven’t received justice for the businesses that were destroyed in the riots or for the slavery that they had suffered in Korea and during the WWII. It just highlighted the importance of sharing histories particularly when the communities is very diverse. All the accounts from jury members as well as the account from a female witness to Rodney King’s beating were quite shocking frankly and served to highlight the worst in human behaviour; the apathy and laziness shown by Rodney King’s lawyers and a justice system not fit for purpose.
Nina Bowers was very passionate and powerful in telling all the stories. I felt that some of the characters needed a bit more physical definition given that this is a one woman show, as this would help her refine some of the accents.
Overall Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is very powerful piece of writing that talks about issues that still relevent today. It is unflinching and honest account about society, race and US justice system. A must see.