Still Smoldering: ’92 LA Uprising

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Wet Sand: Voices from L.A., a documentary by acclaimed director Dai Sil Kim-Gibson that examines the aftereffects of the devastating 1992 uprising in Los Angeles, premieres in New York on WNET/Thirteen next month. The airing is part of “Due East,� the public television station’s annual celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The film will be broadcast on PBS stations around the country in April, May and June. [Check your local listings for air times.]

While the uprising was sparked by the Simi Valley jury’s decision to acquit the police officers who beat Rodney King, the film explores the explosive response as stemming from deeply rooted problems of poverty and racism. Wet Sand makes its case through interviews and archival footage of Blacks, Latinos and Korean American storeowners, Latino immigrants working for Korean grocery stores, a white Bel Air resident and community leaders. 
The film opens with Jung Hui Lee visiting the grave of her teenage son Eddie who was killed during the chaos. "I cannot forget him," says Lee. "I must carry him in my chest." Later, as she reflects on his death, she notes, "I thought one man killed my son but if I widen my view, it wasn’t just one person. Something is drastically wrong." 

Longstanding problems in American society that existed before the 1992 civil unrest still exist today. Kim-Gibson also points out that the media unfairly characterized the 1992 civil unrest as a Black and Korean conflict, continuously playing the surveillance footage of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins being shot by Korean storeowner Soon Ja Du who thought Harlins was shoplifting. Du was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter but the sentence was reduced by the judge to probation. "It is clear that our lives are not as valuable as anyone else’s in this country," says Harlins’ family attorney, Leon Jenkins. 

Many people were unable to rebuild and left Los Angeles. Those that stayed had a difficult time. Nadine Ellis’s interior design business was ransacked. "I was out of business for three months and didn’t have any money coming in. I couldn’t get a loan from nobody," says Ellis, who is Black.

“I wanted to explore the racial, economic and class dynamics in America,� says Kim-Gibson, who believes her documentary is the first to deal with these dynamics among Blacks, immigrants and whites. “It’s vital to create dialogue among people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds on the pressing issues of racism, poverty and violence.�
 
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