A Love Song for Latasha

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
A Love Song for Latasha Movie Poster Image
Brief docu remembers Black teen whose life was cut short.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 19 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

"The only way we're going to get treated like queens is if we carry ourselves that way."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Latasha Harlins planned to graduate from high school with a perfect GPA, become an attorney and businesswoman, and to give back to her community. She was polite, studious, kind, helpful, responsible, and caring.

Violence

A 9-year-old girl's mother is shot to death. Six years later, that girl is shot in the back of the head by a storekeeper who claims the girl was stealing a container of orange juice. Violence is offscreen. A woman remembers being held underwater by some bullies until she was rescued by the girl who would become her best friend. A Black woman talks about racism, recalling that store owners called her and her friends "monkeys" and followed them around the stores, assuming that because they were Black they would do harm or steal. She recalls that Harlins "was aware of her color and accepted it."

Sex
Language

"Damn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Love Song for Latasha is a brief documentary (19 minutes) tribute to a bright and promising teenager named Latasha Harlins who was shot in 1991 in the back of the head by a shopkeeper in her South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. The shopkeeper claimed Harlins was stealing a container of orange juice, but evidence suggests Harlins was about to pay with the money she had in her hands. No violence is shown, and few details are given of the murder, except to note that the shopkeeper was let off without jail time and that the murder was one incident said to have set off the 1992 Los Angeles riots. A Black woman talks about racism, recalling that store owners called her and her friends "monkeys" and followed them around the stores, assuming that because they were Black they would do harm or steal. Language includes "damn."

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What's the story?

A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA is a 19-minute documentary by Sophia Nahli Allison that appeared in the short films section of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Her subject is Latasha Harlins, a South Central Los Angeles Black teenager who went to the store in her neighborhood in 1991 to buy orange juice and was shot in the back of the head by the shopkeeper who claimed Harlins was trying to steal. According to the documentary, Harlins was holding the two dollars for purchasing the juice in her hand when she was killed. Thirty years later, close friends are still devastated by the senseless violence that took their extraordinary friend from them. One remembers facing rampant racism at every turn, wondering what name she would be called next and what store she would be chased out of for no reason.

Is it any good?

Director Allison calls herself an experimental documentary filmmaker and, as with many experiments, the results of this short film are mixed. There are many moving moments in A Love Song for Latasha. Harlins' dear friends cry as they remember the extraordinary person they lost, but many of the images that surround their heartfelt tributes -- snowy TV-screen static, for example -- add nothing to a film dedicated to telling stories of tragic and criminal treatment of Black Americans. 

Still, Allison does make the important point that "We are challenging a system that has historically prevented Black women and Black girls from having agency over their narrative and public image. We are activating this space. We are interrogating new ways to imagine and engage with Black history that has been erased or left void." This documentary makes a good contribution to Black narratives controlled by the people who experience those narratives. What is great here are the words of Harlins' great friends and the picture they etch of an extraordinary young woman who seemed destined to do great things, filled with love, decency, care, and intelligence. The decision to delay an account of the sad facts of Harlins' tragedy for the film's last moments -- summarized in four text panels of white letters on a black screen -- is puzzling. This vital information served up earlier would have made the film even more moving.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the injustice of a shopkeeper convicted of voluntary manslaughter for killing a 15-year-old girl receiving no jail time. Do you think Latasha would have been killed had she been white? What do you think this says about the American justice system?

  • How does A Love Song for Latasha portray life for young Black people in South Central Los Angeles in the 1990s? What forms of racism did they have to face? Do you think things have changed much in the 30 years since?

  • How do you think this movie relates to attitudes about equality among the races today? What changes would you like to see?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love African American stories

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