Twenty years ago Los Angeles was burning, a conflagration that began with a videotape. Four police officers who had been captured on camera beating Rodney King were acquitted on April 29, 1992, and for days the city seethed.
More than 50 people died. Property damage was estimated at about $1 billion. All of it is directly traceable to the power of video documentation.
That isn’t the sort of documentation promised by the title of the documentary “Uprising: Hip Hop and the L.A. Riots,” which has its premiere Tuesday on VH1. That hip-hop had foretold the events of those few days, and that it continued to reference them in the aftermath, is the animating principle of this film, which has plenty of vintage interview clips of Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice-T and more to demonstrate the point.
But what’s more notable is the seamlessness with which the director, Mark Ford, is able to recreate the early moments of the riots, using videos captured on the spot that still shocks.
There is news footage, of course, like the images of Reginald Denny being pulled from his truck and savagely beaten, filmed from a news helicopter. But some of the most vivid belly-of-the-beast images came from Matthew McDaniel, a black filmmaker who was in South Central Los Angeles before the fires began; large parts of his work are reproduced here.C
Even less regretful is the University of Southern California professor Todd Boyd, who says:
“I didn’t shed a tear for Reginald Denny. He shouldn’t have been in that truck in that neighborhood at that time. That’s unfortunate, just like it was unfortunate for Rodney King.”
In addition, you can watch the whole documentary: