LA riots 'did not start with Rodney King'

Writer - Director, John Ridley sits down with Amna Nawaz in this episode of "Uncomfortable" to talk about the story behind his film about the L.A. riots, "Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992."
37:07 | 05/02/17

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Transcript for LA riots 'did not start with Rodney King'
Hey everybody I'm on and the size welcome to uncomfortable the goal here is to have honest. Unflinching conversations about somebody issues that may divide us as Americans like to take big ideas but has shaken around a lot of it. Which is why I am very excited. To have John Ridley here that's today in conversation thanks so much for being here thank you firmament deeply appreciate so we're talking today of course because this amazing work that you've been. Happening for so long let it fall Los Angeles from 1982 to 1992. Is out here in the uterus. Airing on ABC. It is ace just a sweeping look at how we got to the uprising in Los Angeles which has now become. Such an incredible part of our American narrative and I want to talk certainly about the work about how you came to tell that story about why he came to tell at the way to cheat and the one of the things you like to do here. It's also kind of figure out why people hold the views that they do why you see the world the way that you do so wanna hear about you and how you grew up and where you can. Well I'm originally from a small town in the midway through to steady growth outside of Milwaukee Wisconsin. Very interesting circumstances knows just talking to my sister about it yesterday. Tom and we were one of few. People of color. Where we grew up program mighty mother was and still is a teacher my father. Is it Dr. doesn't practice anymore. Very well respected in the community well respected because they were unafraid to voice their opinions and be involved. So. Because of that you know because of demographics because where we are war because people knew who are our family. Or circumstances repaired different and we always. Felt our other nests but we did not always have to deal with it. So to speak. And we were as one of the few black people we we knew that but also in a week we did not. The police officers where we grew up they weren't just faceless individuals who they were best friends. Parents and we are accused their houses. We. Because it where parents were. People and they they knew who we were they recognized us in every way shape and form so. Again we've we always knew that we were different but we we didn't necessarily have to deal with that. I ended up arriving to new York and that. Early to mid 1980s it is in. Surprisingly. Stats where. I started to deal with believing so. A person from a small town in the Arctic think it's cosmopolitan city major metropolitan cities world city. But that was the New York Bernie Goetz. Howard's speech and Crown Heights. When I left the pumpkin square riots mean it was just. He. Has started to realize what would neighborhoods that if I go to their may be a problem there are people who. See me as nothing but a threat. And and that it never happened now you know they were beaten him in Wisconsin again I had great experiences you look back on news you start to maybe think about. You know quiet tree or soft bigotry that every process. And I get to two. And I think oh you know why. But I never. I remember very clearly being in new York and being out late with to a good friends and black eyes. And we're just goof around and and I mean very mild. You know meet our well being streets of New York this was my. And walking my friends who have been in Brooklyn. I'm. Dan some police officers. Chickens. And we were on currency at about eighty seconds. And eighty seconds. Ago with him. And these officers use. And if our office every hole weighed down average. And moment by moment you know he's certain he don't know what's gonna happen. You know that they here. In choosing to mess with you news. You know we had done nothing wrong. At all. No reason you know they. Stand there fine rom from mind. My driver's license this. By you'd you'd. And I know there were people who. Grow up my agent that every single but again grown up in Wisconsin. Never having a circumstance like. Three. Black kids in the car. New York. You know this. Like I mean for if you grow up the way that you do and it's Venezia I think and it's a much greater when it very few families of color but you don't feel others. Until you grow up and then you start to notice the wake of her old works do you think wait a second may be back I meant something else when he said that thing that one time but what at that moment. When you realize it's because of who you are and how you're perceived. Would he because it was also. You realize I was probably. When he warned when he too at that time and that was also the first time that it. And you know there other individuals. Who that's their experience that's their primary experience. Dealing with the system we're dealing with law enforcement issues and then you sir it's OK well that's how fumes accounts. Because when it happens to you when Europe twelfth thirteen fourteen and that becomes your only experience. Of course by the time and went to three years' sole. You look at law enforcement vary differently. And that's equally unfortunate so it was difficult for happen the first time. What I really was aware of the fact that. When my parents were drawn up. They certainly. Had peace and experiences but just. By dint of being black people and at that time in their lives. You know they were experiencing things completely different in the way I was experiencing and of course every generation he won experiences to get better by. You know I don't want my sons to ever have. Negative experience law enforcement I want them to respect people more enforcement. I also want people and law enforcement to respect them but at the same time because there are difficult circumstances that happen. Com. You want people understand that when they do happen and I necessarily random. They're not just per chance. That there are systemic issues that are going on and we've got to you can't wait. To it happens to us army war. If it if it something tapping in a different community. You know if people are getting pulled off an airplane it's well you know that's pretty bad enemy way so I can't really worry about that. I'm circumstances a real when things that are happening. He even now. We talk about the Rodney King riots in with Rodney King uprising. At that time something being caught on tape. Was just not the nor right now things are getting caught on. And even though it seems like OK maybe it's happening. Every day if if it's being caught attempting more than just every day right you know it's happening every moment and not just casual incidents he never become immune. OK well with its on Twitter world today made him nation's social media but if nothing else. Should remind us that if this is happening to this one individual. In other people weakens. How could that realization at as a young man you're starting your career you're figuring out your path he strained to see yourself in relation to the rest of the world in a different way. How did that in forum how you expect your path moving forward what you decided to do how you decided tell the stories into the work you wanted to do. I think that even still with sort of a long arc yes you know in the early days. My career. You know as as a young person unit was still very focused on. Me and my experiences. Certainly was aware and very accurately. No matter what stores ones tell news and a lot of them were more pure entertainment. That as. Then. Moore as the guy. You know there where we're going to be barriers there were going to be. I was not going to have the opportunities that other individuals had. But at the same time. A lot of this is just really. The way I was raised by parents. Things that they instilled that didn't matter in I never. Thought I would not be able to accomplish. The things that I want accomplished and the have been rewards that I've. Had that. You don't have control that is who this day right now it's that we do you still can't believe. Some of the blessings that it had but in terms of writing things that I want to write tell the stories that moment ago. Have some impact on communities. To. Be able to. Now he engage people. In the public space. I just never considered that that was not going to happen Chris. So many people who've come into contact with your work were recently and no. There's a lot of the slot heady stuff in there you tackle some of that big stuff. They may not know orally on you are in comedy. It's your rating for. Fresh paint and for Martin an all these idealistic comes up kind of divine that air at what you're you're the son of a teacher and a doctor. What makes you want to go and entertainment in the first place. It. I need. Cannot. Say particularly other than moments where it sat in a movie theaters and was just. Transport and moved and moved by stories all kinds of stores. Just. Why why why does one become a teacher or doctor or a fire for Europe. War in an auto mechanic there's something about working on an engine that just gives you he feeling like no water there's something about. My wife's summer cousins are firefighters they wouldn't. Do anything differently you know they show us helmets that they keep that you are the ultimate partially melt in the farm buildings. Which is because. You didn't do something about what you do you're or a disservice that you do that it's a special I don't think I appreciated. The power and the impact of narrative completely. When I was younger person I think over time. In the US. Telling these stores and sharing yes those younger. In Regis the room and be funny or wanted to rank right for people who were funny. One and two. Be involved in film and payments just an exciting. I'm business I think people don't. Quite understand how much work goes into. Power comedy. And here feel a little of it is fun in the moment you know it's very very stressful but in people Seau isolation of the endorsement the sofa and mark was great. You know that's with the enjoyment comes. With a live audience and they're responding to jokes that Britain responding to what the actors are doing acts. A lot of fun but. You know it you have people you looked up to a plan he seat like other writers are comedians their performance he said there was certainly comedians I looked up to but it was very. You know when you get into the business and you realize while they really are very. Few. Black people at that time people of color involved are involved in decision making position hasn't been executive decisions and directing. Com that was. Kind of eye opening because you assume you know the numbers were going to be a little bad. You know they weren't good. Be in your favor but it was you know they were just. There was very little person their stack. Very little and unfortunately. You know the remains relatively speaking there's very little representation. Has it gotten better he think now it has not gotten I mean and I I say that in not based knocking on facto numbers. Even though we're living in a space where there has been in this XBLA Lucien. Filmed entertainment terms television streaming Capel there's something like them by people's count. Between 30400. Fit the scripted shows on the year man and every one of those shows has multiple directors multiple writers multiple executives. Involved. But the numbers in terms. Blacks people caller women. People who are essentially not. Straight white males who are in critical position remains. That is just and it is it's truly not changes remain flat so more and more and more television. But those individuals. Women people of color traditionally disenfranchised individuals are still not involved in in terms of in front of the camera you know people look at this last year. At the Oscars and was great was really represented. Representative. And reflective. Which is very important what you start to go in other categories other spaces. And it's still not represented and I think it's very important. People talk about diversity and I really actually don't like that were being used. Because. Women people of color. People of other backgrounds and we're in the majority. And is actually straight white males when you see a straight white male that's diversity. And people civil it's just words would what does it matter but I think it's very important to understand. We we've got to be reflective of the environment that we live and if you know people. In on the decision making processes are you okay well you know it returned about diversity and you are actually over represented. How does that make you feel. How does that make youth and if we really are talking about being reflective. Then it's a whole other conversation I think it's very important to approach it. In that regard. And look at the work we're doing and saying OK is this actually really reflective of the environment were working in a not diversity in the sense of OK well we have one of those and one of them. So hey look reverse checked the box check the boxes were all good let's go with Spellman. It's hard to believe in so many ways it's been 25 years. Since. Since that that LA riots that and he uprising and there's a number of works coming out right now they're looking back and reflecting on it in different way. Just on a personal level where where where you. When it was actually happening how we. I was asked I was in Los Angeles I was living in this. Fairfax district through which is not particularly close to where. The initial incidents occurred and who was in an area that was. No longer called self socialist south central Los Angeles. I was not at home when the verdicts were read. I believe I heard the news on my car what I remember about that first day. As night was approaching. It was in today. Large supermarket. Ralphs and believe soon. But it was against the good neighborhood large supermarket that's where we were and we were removed you can smell the smoke and he could smell it a point where it was. He knew that this was not an isolated incident. And this was growing but at that time. Still thinking OK you know if you do not been the Los Angeles this is the on this city. Is spread out like. Him and you know ten miles. It is. Half hour way. You know fifteen miles is 45 minutes away. So when things happen in different neighborhoods and only you can since you can feel it but on that first day it was still while this is bad. Boy that you know even at that time. People had come to believe. That south central was there a particular. Neighborhood the way we Toronto Westwood is very particular Beverly Hills rent all of these. It did to central part of the same city but they all have their own five and you know the that the outrage at the verdict. The the sense of shock dismay. Do there were few people in Los Angeles who did not feel that what. A lot of people felt OK Gil boy this is bad man that. It it's affecting a group of individuals. And a very particular way it is and by the second day. And as that second night approached and we began to realize people began to realize that. One force meant the system administration. Either. I did not have the capacity. We're did not have the desire. You know the first step and probably more important that the desire the campaign this spring fine these individuals and one of permanent. And it. A second day there was the few people no longer the capacity. To contain this and it was beginning to affect many communities in many different ways. When it was people so outraged when those people like. It was an opportunity whether people were just buckle its. And just kitten in on it. That's where. After years of people trying to engage in the system. And warn people and try to intervene at that point. This cascade effect starting to reach every. And there was somebody in our document shoes says at that point everybody needs to fields and everybody needs to stay in her and you start to realize Aaliyah if we don't engage. If we really don't problems solved. You can. Walk around feeling like well you know that's bad but that's happening with those folks that's unfortunate but that's them over there. Com win distressed arrives to us you know it doesn't segregate us and them anymore when I'm win. Hurt happens. In distress happens. Oh when when people feel like they have no other. Recourse but the porn to the streets. Could affect everybody and we wait to that point to prop themselves it is far too. On a personal level for years Peter there here in Los Angeles Europe black man in Los Angeles watching black largely black communities. Go through absolute hell in response to something that was extensively along racial lines as well him. How do you process that it was very difficult for me because I wasn't where you know my circumstances are different you know as deep as a black person I know how I felt about. The assault itself and spoke about the verdict itself. But as a person and who grew up in different circumstances I also new heart felt about seeing. Random individuals. Who pulled from their cars a salted. But then also knowing that largely what was happening and where these fires were burning. I'm certainly not saying that that rate should be focused on some other community but looking at Angola OK we'll. People's homes. Were clearly black people. Their businesses were clearly. Probably largely black owned and certainly there were commit and businesses. Korean on the are being targeted and that's and that but it no they were still affecting the black community loses because those services were disappearing. Shops registry wasn't like you could suspend him park drive to the valley. And get food and get diapers and things like that you know I am the real mix of emotions the pain was there the disbelief was there. Anger was there but not random anger. And certainly not anger to the point that I want to see anybody's business and we've seen all of these things happening in and all. If he truly is. Getting out of control this is not about individuals saying okay you know what we are going to be horror. And we're going to be earned whether it's going to the streets are assembling at a church or anything like that its people secure we try to be heard they'll care or someone again in our RO. Documentary says at that point. The compassion mine was closed until it was an amazing. Leave that simplistic but simple way of saying who's there was even less about rage or anger hatred but in the longer compassion. And the longer the ability to care about some details the circumstances and a lot of people don't care that's your business I don't care if you're caught up in this don't care. And you know sometimes maybe the opposite of angers just disregard. You know. There's something uniquely empathetic. About so much it certainly and let it fall but also across American crying and Corel. You have is at this wealth of empathy that somehow translates across all the people in whether they're meant to be you know. Protagonists antagonists are at a you're not telling people how to feel about them by. There's complications behind everybody feature in your stories. And particularly in something like this which for so long with talked about with day sort of hear the perpetrators here that victims here here's the plaque at the white. Not just racial lines the sort of in the story telling. I think even in the story telling a lot of times you know look clearly the black community. Have been disproportionately affected. By. A lot. The ways that oh please. Administration even the mayor Bradley was mayor that I'm in house city services produced. And her actions. Column word. Framed or. But. Braces not a minor thing it isn't just like in our stores really point out that we're talking about. Black communities. Clean American community Japanese American and Hispanic communities that all. Caught up in these circumstances that led to this opera so at that point you know race was not primary in the here and now. It's not mind hearing and I think that one of the things that sets apart the world that we do when we talk about American crime for guerrilla. His sayings that come. The issues that we face. Abroad. As a black man goes WEB two boys he talked about. A particular grievances. As people. Are protect the very particular but one of the issues beat columns when we cannot. We're doomed attic space where tolerance. For other people's issues the not about comparing tragedies. Where sang it well we went through this. And it is particular and we need to deal with that. But in dealing with that I have no interest in your issues your background when you're dealing it and that's where becomes a problem. And where he story like. Let it fall. I think white people responded to it in. Such an emotional way is that we start with a collection of individuals. Black white. Asian Hispanic and we don't understand quite what if stories. And it's just people calling the circumstances only moments from the family lives. And then minute by minute in the story. We start on the stand movies are just random individuals. Adam these folks there stores in her world and inner connected. They are. Witnesses or participants. In moments that changed the course of history in Los Angeles and by extension truly. In her actions across this country and I think what. Has hit people is they start to understand and realize you know in. All kinds of cities and all kinds of spaces that person. Sitting next on the software cross on the street problem. That may be. The least of our interactions it may be the most of her actions but we do have a connection. And their stories they're narrative is as valid as my story miners. My issues. And we. Truly start looking people SP. I'm very. Do that an American crime and grow and certainly. Any fact based story. Like fall. Where it's less about our opinions our producers. And it's where production Eee PC. Less about our opinions and more about building an apparatus for delivering him. Capacity for compassion that's something here your mother taught you your whole life at that England it's something that's come at page have been very fortunate to have careers within. And I did go through a span of time where. A lot of the work that it was very opinion orient and on and on purpose on purpose because myself and also because of the space is that it was working in. But over time I mean you've won cannot. Sit with individuals like to ski gear and have them share their story with Hugh and it will this needs to be whole let's about means. And more about honoring. Their service when cannot spin for years. Working with Solomon ups. Narrative. Twelve uses ways and I realized that witnesses. So much. In this story are it is. Still represents one experience in the totality. Experience in America so. He was just I think. And even over the last. Years he I think my parents did an amazing. Representing. Level of selflessness. He just as people is that. You know didn't quite land with me as being instructional. Person when Amy well you know look you. Anybody parents teachers individuals are the people you can settlement along with with anybody. In them are young folks says. You should. Aspire to this if you aspired to listening and you talk he should aspire to being patient whose should aspire to. Caring about other people's circumstances. That we can we can teach teach that long but it some points about teaching more about witnessing and one day. For whatever reason because of the work you're doing because you have kids yourself because you just. Lot and you get tired of be honest comes ago and talk about me. And that's exciting at some point in the really does come you know. I'm them that. This person's story. Is way more interest and and what. Let's talk. Com there's still look to. Pick this subject matter to write these kinds of stories. Do you choose to go into these spaces than he is his opinion every step away you know and emotion and opinion emotion believe representations of my upbringing my experiences. With in that as well trying to create space where. Other people's stories of the people's experiences. Things that a poor people who share their stories with me. Fuel is though. That space will be honored if stories will be treated with dignity respect and also you know again when when we screened. Let it fall. For the first time it people who had not spoken about the incidents ever. People from different backgrounds different communities. Community individuals police officers. It's hard enough wherever you work is screening at first. There's people order. It's also very heart screening for people who trusted you with an embarrassing for the first. It is even more difficult. You're taking individuals who have reason to be suspect. Both of what you're doing. How other people. Are going to proceed faster because over years they've been to them and trust. This group this group surge and our employees so imagine all of knows. Elements going into your first screening but being able to walk away with. People who trusted you people believed. Some people who had every reason in the world not share that story. To see he. That not only was their stories honor and but there was. Equal honoring and other people other individuals and that there was this connect. I think all of us older and that moment but the space that a right to relieve was. You know it was administration was administration to step months ago but in witnessing. What other people and people sacrificed. Just plain growing up as a person. I'm I'm I'm happy and thankful. That for whatever reason people still consider. That. You know look. To have company Eee PC have a company Disney company. When they are doing such amazing entertainment. In so many spaces saying you know there's a value in this story that use different from. 8088 Q world. Profit. Dry. If any importance is unique in the only way do an assessment. In its own regard and I cannot be thankful to exist. This is amazing company to say not just to meet other people as well but fewer stores the stories you wanna present have a value let us figure out what about you it is. Finally sheer guts so many people from so many different angle to participate in this. But at the heart of inheritance for officer who returns in acquitted and decided not to participate. Worry we would touch and G did you get we did. In the end we had. Producers and individuals and in particular people with law enforcement background again who reached out of these officers. And we had different levels of engagement with the four of them some of them. We're not interested in telling their story whatsoever. Some of them did have preliminary engagements with us and want to know what we are doing and why we were doing it and I was very. Disappointment that they chose not to share this story because we do have other people. Who. In different spaces. Certainly. From the law enforcement angle from law enforcement but also from community yeah. Why do you think they didn't want to participate well you know some of them are very clear they did eight interest and wanna talk about it we're non interest in some people felt as though. They spent the last when he five years trying to move away from the story. And if they talks. In the modern space. With social media. That they were just going to be excoriated publicly again and again and again right or wrong. Our desire. In telling this these stories was not to. Exonerate anyone. But at the same and we didn't want to indict people we did not want to simply have straw man of strong women. Were set up to two B knock down. I think these gentlemen however I mean feel about. What happened on that night boot or what happened in the courtrooms. That there was more to their story and there was more to them. And for all of these individuals and we do have some law enforcement officials represented in this story that made some very difficult decisions. On some people from the community that made some. Whose actions were driven from their particular passion group whose. We try to represent them. In their. Homeless as human beings. What we tried to expressed of these officers who were not just going to ask you about that night we were not scored asked about. The actions at that moment right but try to get a sense of who you war. And try to get context for what happened that night and then also try to understand what that meant going forward so. They chose not to engage. I get it I understand that. A wish that they had but I do have an appreciation for people. From these various communities who chose to engage in chose to share their stories and understood that. They it was up to them food and to represented who they worry and the decisions that they made. And how it affected them in the long term and if they were willing to share that we would do everything we could to do that without buys. In the telling of the story you so completely I mean it starts at 1980 TO. To get up to that point and there's almost an inevitability. To what ended up happening on the level of described the destruction in the in the way things came about and I wonder. A if you think it was inevitable. And B if you look around now and see other sort of pockets of genetic inevitability. Where similar thinks could happen. I you know it sadly I do think it was an album I think that's part of the tight you know people let this fall because again. The Rodney King uprisings you know as we say. In the story and it didn't start with Rodney King it was not one night it was not once all that was not just one verdict. In Simi Valley some people did try to engage with the system people. Did try to let those in authority known that there were problems calm there were great times and in 1984 with the Olympics with mayor Bradley where things felt really really good news but as. Then. What we need to be mindful of now to your question is because my circumstances. May be good because. A lot of people may be enjoying good times that doesn't mean that there and a pressure points there issues in their communities. Things that people are dealing with in the here and now. That may not jump off Mac's weekly maximum term next year. But they can happen again but clearly there are similarities in the Mon. Los Angeles Ferguson Baltimore there systemic issues I do think with all of those spaces. They deserve and the people involved deserve if singular examinations. We can't Disco Los Angeles is. Baltimore whose hand Baltimore is another Fergus or an entity the circumstances are unique stories the stories are unique. This is systemic issues you know goals are pervasive. And those are happen. Do you worry there could be similar kinds of low level of riots and uprisings and absolutely. You know look at whether how the scope and scale how big they are pervasive they are you know and again you know Los angeles' city. How it was policed and I mean in the psychology of it just the numbers the demographics. What what the capacities war. It's very very different is reversing it was so I have no doubt in terms in her actions in terms. Room. What happens communities how we look at each other note that the we know and we just know that there are issues whether that results in large scale uprising whether results in. Few individuals going on on the street it is whether that news. Public demonstration. Where police and citizenry citizenry. Going out together to say look there's an issue and we got to deal with it or whether it's just people who like their. How it happens. What the results aren't that I can't predict but I'm absolutely sure that there's stress points at their people feel like they're being marginalized. They're not being listened to somewhere right now. And they are going to want recourse. We need to make sure that the recourse is positive. It's real engagement because otherwise when when you take away people's voices when you take away. Their ability to be heard it would make themselves heard anyway that it feels appropriate. Jonathan command by and let it called Los Angeles 1980 to 1992. Thank you so much for being a thank you very much certainly. Thank you for listening to uncomfortable. If you like what we're doing take a minute believe that the rating and a quick review it helps others to find these conversations and we really just wanna hear what you think. Plus we made it easy just clicked on the link in the description of this episode. If you have an idea for a show topping forecasts lead in the reviews or twenty Japanese patent about the stuff that's. An eighty WA. DB I FT ample free use the hash tag uncomfortable hot. Uncomfortable with the production of ABC news. New episode closed every 2 weeks on Tuesday morning. I'm on in the box thanks for listening.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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