In November 1991, a Korean convenience store owner convicted of fatally shooting African-American teenager Latasha Harlins was given no jail time by a white Los Angeles judge. Six months later, four police officers caught on videotape brutally beating unarmed black motorist Rodney King were acquitted of assault by a predominantly white Simi Valley jury. The King verdict sparked a wave of violent protests, looting and arson that lasted several days and left more than 50 people dead, thousands injured and large swaths of Los Angeles — including many Korean-American-owned businesses — in ruins.
Twenty-five years later, National Geographic Documentary Films explores the events leading up to the violence, as well as the chaos and destruction that ensued, in the new documentary LA 92. Told entirely through stunning and rarely seen archival footage, the film captures the shock, disappointment and fury felt by many Angelenos, particularly those in the African-American community, following the outcomes of the back-to-back, highly publicized trials. In the case of the King beating, it was the first time the kind of abuse many had witnessed or experienced at the hands of LAPD officers was recorded and broadcast for the world to see, leaving some with the sense that if justice did not prevail despite such graphic evidence, it never would.
On April 29, 1992, those emotions boiled over into unbridled mayhem that began in the predominantly black area of South Central Los Angeles and quickly spread to other parts of the city. The situation was exacerbated by the slow reaction of first responders and delays in deploying National Guard troops by then Governor Pete Wilson to secure the area.
LA 92 offers a riveting glimpse of a major American city during some of its darkest days. Viewed from a multitude of vantage points, the film brings a fresh perspective to a pivotal moment that reverberates to this day.
LA 92 is produced by Lightbox in association with National Geographic Documentary Films. For Lightbox, producers are Simon and Jonathan Chinn. For National Geographic Documentary Films, the executive producer is Matt Renner and Tim Pastore is president of original programming and production.
LA 92 premieres on the National Geographic Channel at 9pm EST/8 pm CST
Listen to the On the Record podcast with directors Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin
Twenty-five years after the verdict in the Rodney King trial sparked several days of protests, violence and looting in Los Angeles, LA 92, a new feature documentary from National Geographic Documentary Films, immerses viewers in that tumultuous period through stunning and rarely seen archival footage.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
In 2016, with the 25th anniversary of the violence in Los Angeles approaching — and angry protests over police misconduct once again erupting in cities throughout the U.S. — award-winning producers Simon Chinn and Jonathan Chinn knew it was the right time to revisit the tumultuous events of 1992.
“The LA riots happened a quarter century ago, but we are still struggling with the root causes of those riots today,” says Jonathan Chinn. “It’s clear from the events that occurred in Ferguson and Baltimore last year that as a nation we are still finding our way in terms of escaping the cycle of racial oppression, police brutality, socioeconomic inequality — and the inevitable protest that results from these things.”
The Chinns, cousins who together run the prolific multimedia production company Lightbox, pitched the idea to National Geographic Documentary Films by cutting together a “mood reel” of archival footage from the period. “The next day, Nat Geo called us to say they were interested in commissioning it as a feature documentary,” says Simon Chinn, who won Oscars for producing the documentaries “Searching for Sugar Man” and “Man on Wire.”
“Simon and Jonathan are insanely talented filmmakers, experts at telling provocative, timely stories in unconventional ways,” says Tim Pastore, president of original programming and production for National Geographic. “As our country continues to wrestle with racial injustice, the LA riots are as relevant and as raw today as they were 25 years ago — we knew they’d do this story justice.”
To direct the ambitious project, the producers turned to Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin. “Dan and TJ are just incredible filmmakers,” says Jonathan Chinn, an Emmy winner whose credits include the FX series “30 Days” and PBS’ “American High.” “Their film ‘Undefeated’ is a masterpiece of verite documentary filmmaking. They approached this topic with such thoughtfulness and artistic flair that we knew the film would be in very good hands under their care.”
Lindsay and Martin, who hail from Rockford, Illinois, and Seattle, Washington, respectively, hadn’t yet graduated high school in 1992. So, like many Americans, their previous knowledge of the events of that year was based mainly on their recollections of a few iconic moments they had seen on television. “Most of us tend to remember the Rodney King tape, the Reginald Denny incident at Florence and Normandie and the ‘Can’t we all get along’ speech that Rodney King gave,” says Lindsay.
But when the pair saw the reel of less well known footage assembled by the producers, they were stunned. “I was shocked to see some of those images,” says Lindsay. “Like the scenes of Korean merchants defending their businesses. And the moment when an African-American store owner named Art Washington pleads with looters and asks them why they’re doing what they’re doing. Those were things I hadn’t seen.”
The filmmakers were convinced that the passion conveyed in videos like those would tell the story far more eloquently than any narrator or “talking head” interviews could. “Our guidepost is always to find the emotion in the experience and immerse the audience in it so they can come to their own conclusions intellectually and emotionally,” says Martin. “Rather than interviewing someone and presenting them as the authority on the subject matter, our intention is to put the viewer back in the experience and have them wrestle with the conflicting emotions the city and the country were going through at the time.”
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
DAN LINDSAY and TJ MARTIN (Co-directors) have been collaborating since 2007 and are co-directors, co-editors and co-cinematographers of the feature-length documentary “Undefeated.” The film premiered at the 2011 SXSW film festival, where it was purchased by The Weinstein Company for North American distribution. In 2012, the film won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary, making Martin the first director of African-American descent to win an Oscar for a feature-length film. The film was also nominated for Best Documentary at the Critics’ Choice Awards and Black Reel Awards and has won numerous festival awards, including the Special Jury Prize at DOC NYC and Audience Awards at Indie Memphis and the Chicago International Film Festival. “Undefeated” also had the honor of making its international debut at the Toronto International Film Festival.
In 2012 Martin was listed on Ebony magazine’s Power 100 list alongside President Barack Obama, Professor Cornell West and LeBron James, to name a few. That same year, Martin received the award for Outstanding Achievement in Directing from the Seattle International Film Festival.
Martin and Lindsay have also directed several short-form pieces across various platforms, including” My Favorite Picture of You.” That film has screened at numerous film festivals and has been featured on “The Atlantic” and “Dazed.” In 2014 it was chosen as a Vimeo Staff Pick and nominated for a Webby Award.
As commercial directors, the duo has have helmed campaigns for companies as diverse as Facebook, Prudential, Honey Maid and The United Negro College Fund. In 2014 Honeymaid’s “This Is Wholesome” campaign and Prudential’s “Chapter Two” campaign were each honored with a Gold Lion at the Cannes Lions Festival.
In 2015 Martin gave a talk at TEDx on Orcas Island, Washington, titled “Reimagining America’s Culture Narrative,” in which he used his own experiences to discuss race and diversity in the film and television industry and in the media.
Lindsay was born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, and graduated from the University of Missouri in 2001. Martin was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, and graduated from Fairhaven College at Western Washington University, where he studied American cultural studies. He and his directing partner are represented at William Morris Endeavor and managed at Principato-Young. Commercially they are represented by Furlined.
LIGHTBOX (Production Company) is a multinational media company headquartered in London and Los Angeles focused on creating high-quality nonfiction programming for film, television and digital platforms. It was founded in 2014 by two-time Academy Award winner Simon Chinn and his Emmy award-winning cousin, Jonathan Chinn.
Prior to co-founding Lightbox, Jonathan Chinn worked as one of the most respected nonfiction television showrunners in the U.S., winning an Emmy for his work on the genre-defining series “American High” (Fox/PBS) and the Television Academy’s prestigious Honors Award as the executive producer and showrunner of “30 Days,” which became FX’s highest-rated unscripted series. Over the past 15 years, he has built up an eclectic body of work that runs the gamut from documentary to formatted reality, all unified by a sense of authenticity and character-driven narratives, with credits including “The Residents” (Discovery), “Freshman Diaries” (Showtime), “Kid Nation” (CBS), “Hotel Hell” (Fox) and “Push Girls” (Sundance).
Simon Chinn is one of the world’s most successful feature documentary producers, with two Academy Award-winning films, “Man on Wire” and “Searching for Sugar Man,” to his credit. He has produced or executive produced many other critically acclaimed and commercially successful theatrical documentaries, including “Project Nim,” “The Imposter,” “The Green Prince” and, most recently, “My Scientology Movie,” starring Louis Theroux, which was the highest-grossing British feature documentary of the past year.
Simon and Jonathan’s partnership represents a seamless melding of two distinct but compatible backgrounds and a strongly shared creative sensibility. Since its founding in 2014, Lightbox has produced many notable projects for the U.S., U.K. and international film and TV markets, including the groundbreaking eight-part series “Captive” for Netflix; the ESPN “30 for 30” film about the 2006 Duke lacrosse scandal titled “Fantastic Lies”; two documentary films for Xbox Entertainment Studios about the digital revolution, “Atari: Game Over” and “The Thread”; the eight-part investigative series “The Traffickers” for Fusion; “Inside British Vogue” for BBC, which followed a year in the life of the iconic fashion bible; and “The Runner-Up” for Esquire, which chronicled Clay Aiken’s improbable and unsuccessful run for a U.S. congressional seat in North Carolina.
Upcoming projects include the only authorized documentary about legendary pop icon Whitney Houston, directed by Academy Award-winning director Kevin Macdonald; “Warchild,” a film for Channel 4 about the Syrian refugee crisis told from the perspective of three children; and “Bare Knuckle Fight Club,” a co-production with C4 and FX Productions. Drawing on its unique and longstanding relationships with the best creative talent in the industry, Lightbox continues to develop acclaimed nonfiction content in the rapidly changing landscape of unscripted programming.