LA 92

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
LA 92 Movie Poster Image
Graphic, real-life violence in powerful Rodney King story.
  • R
  • 2017
  • 114 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The movie's images largely speak for themselves; it's easy to see why the shocking Rodney King video, coupled with the acquittal of the four white police officers involved, sparked such outrage. Shows the power of protest and the need for institutional change. In discussing it, families will need to fill in some of the blanks, given that the movie doesn't provide authoritative/detailed context for the events. Indeed, it's part of a difficult, complex, and ongoing discussion.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Law enforcement is portrayed as having too much power and being too protective of its own. King's famous, heartbreaking press conference in which he pleaded "Can we all get along?" is included in its entirety, and his words are still powerful, even though -- for some terrible reason -- they inspired as much ridicule as they did admiration.

Violence

Real-life violence includes guns and shooting, a teen girl being shot and killed (blurry security cam footage), dead bodies, and blood. There are brutal images of police beating people. A man is dragged from a truck and brutally beaten (and spray-painted). Police grab and drag people. Gory crime scene photos. Cars and buildings on fire. Car smashing into storefront. Brief images of war, exploding shells. Looting. Threats. Arguing, shouting, yelling.

Sex
Language

Multiple uses of "f--k," the "N" word, "motherf----r," "s--t," "bulls--t," "a--hole," "ass," "hell," "f----t," and many racial slurs, including "monkeys," "gorillas," "spic," "beaner," etc. Middle-finger gestures.

Consumerism

Kraft logo shown. Cheese and cracker snacks handed out in shelter.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Bottles and cases of liquor shown during looting scenes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that LA 92 is a powerful, sobering documentary about the riots that were sparked by the acquittal of the four white LAPD officers who were captured on video brutally beating Black motorist Rodney King in 1991. It consists entirely of archival news and home video footage; there's no narration or overlay of historical context. The images are intense and heartbreaking and largely speak for themselves, but families who watch with teens will want to discuss what happened and fill in any blanks. Expect to see extremely strong, real-life violence: Guns and shooting, dead bodies, blood, and brutal beatings are shown, and there's also looting, shouting and threats, gory photos, and cars and buildings on fire. Language is also extremely strong, with multiple uses of "f--k," the "N" word, "s--t," and more.

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What's the story?

LA 92 -- which is told entirely through vintage news and home video footage -- centers on the story of Rodney King, a Black man who was brutally beaten by four white LAPD officers in March 1991. The act was captured on video, the four officers were arrested, and the Black community hoped for justice. Meanwhile, also in March 1991, Black L.A. teen Latasha Harlins was shot and killed by a Korean convenience store owner. It, too, was captured on video, but a white judge let the shooter off with no jail time. Tensions were high leading up to April 1992, when the King trial ended with the jury acquitting all four officers, despite the overwhelming video evidence. Justifiably frustrated and enraged, the Black community took to the streets in protest.

Is it any good?

The images in this documentary -- which consists entirely of archival footage -- are powerful and heartbreaking. And while there's no denying their impact, contemporary commentary or historical context would have been an invaluable addition. Produced by National Geographic for the 25th anniversary of the King verdict and ensuing riots, and boldly assembled from of hundreds of hours of footage by Oscar-winning filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin, LA 92 certainly adds up to a potent experience. The emotion-filled images largely speak for themselves. Perhaps none is more powerful than the single tear shed by a Black man as he watches the four police officers going free.

The music score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans helps underline the images' intensity and helps drive the narrative flow. A prologue and epilogue tying the Watts riots of 1965 to the events of 1992 offer a pessimistic view that not much changed in 30 years -- and offer a foreshadowing of equally tragic events to come, such as the 2020 murder of George Floyd. If LA 92 had broadened its viewpoint a bit, offering a modern, sobering perspective like Ezra Edelman's brilliant O.J.: Made in America, it might have been even more apparent how long and how far back the systemic problems on display here have been in play.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in LA 92. How does it feel to watch these events knowing they really happened, rather than violence created for a fictional story?

  • What, if anything, changed between the 1965 Watts riots and the tragic events that took place in 1992? What has changed between 1992 and the demonstrations following George Floyd's murder in 2020?

  • What did -- and didn't -- shock you while watching this film? 

  • Why is it important to learn -- and talk -- about race and racism? How can media help with that process?

Movie details

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