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Ready for L.A. Riot, the Movie? : Four Years Later, a Showtime Film Is the First to Look at the City's Unrest


In and around Los Angeles, the revolution is being filmed for broadcast at a later date:

An Asian family stands by helplessly as a horde of black and Latino looters flood their small neighborhood market. The mother and father plead with the looters to take what they want, but not to damage their personal belongings. The invaders respond with obscenities, racial slurs and a severe blow to the mother's head.

A Latino youth tries to persuade his friends to join a frenzied crowd breaking into an electronics store. "There ain't no cops out here for miles; they're too scared to come down here," he declares, saying he has the opportunity to finally get what has been traditionally denied him and his struggling family.

A white Los Angeles Police Department officer is incredulous as a crowd converges on his car. He calls for help in the chaos surrounding him, but the dispatcher tells him that no aid is coming, and that he should leave the area. A Molotov cocktail explodes across the hood of his car.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 21, 1996 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 6 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Misspelled name--The surname of producer Harry Winer was misspelled Tuesday in a Calendar article on the filming of a movie about the L.A. riots.

A young black man tries to persuade an angry mob not to burn down the packaged-goods store that was co-owned by his late father. "Why y'all want to burn down your own neighborhood?" he says. A can flies from the crowd and hits his father's partner in the head, seriously wounding him.

The fires of the 1992 Los Angeles riots have long been extinguished, but the emotions ignited by the incident still burn in a group of producers and writers who are currently filming the first movie about the civil unrest that erupted on April 29 that year.

The Polone/Weiner Co., in association with Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope company, is producing "Riot," a two-hour film for Showtime starring Mario and Melvin Van Peebles, Cicely Tyson and Luke Perry. The pay-cable channel is planning to air the film next year to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the riots.

The producers say the goal of the project is to bring a humanity to the destruction, chaos and devastation that took place following the acquittal by a Simi Valley jury of four Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Rodney King. They believe that much of the racial polarization and anger set off by the verdict still exists and could result in another riot.

"I think those old hostilities are ever-present," executive producer Harry Weiner said. "They have not been calmed, they're just resting. Just look at the O.J. [Simpson] trial, where blacks reacted one way and whites reacted another way. The rage that led to the riots remains, and we can just sweep this all under the carpet. But the healthier thing to do is to ask, 'What are we going to do about it?' This film could help in promoting dialogue in a less-charged environment."

Jerry Offsay, president of programming for Showtime, said, "We thought it was one of the defining moments, unfortunately, of the last 25 years. All of us saw the fires burning, but beneath those fires were people."

With the exception of a few network series such as "A Different World" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," television and film studios have declined to deal dramatically with the riots, even though the incident had many of the elements--destruction, heroism, turmoil, courage, heated courtroom confrontations and survival--that might make such a film seem an attractive property.

The television networks' refusal to tackle the riot in movie or miniseries form is even more puzzling, considering that they were heavily involved in the early 1990s in churning out quickie, "torn-from-the-headlines" movies revolving around skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, the Menendez brothers, Hurricane Andrew and the bombing of the World Trade Center.


Some television executives at the time said the riot subject matter was too overwhelming to be handled in a single film. Judd Parkin, senior vice president in charge of motion pictures for television and miniseries at ABC, said in a 1994 statement: "The riot was so big, and so all-encompassing, that we felt there was no way to distill it down to a single movie. There was no central, clear-cut story that could be followed all the way through."

But others inside and outside the television industry said the main reason the topic was being avoided was that such a movie would involve a great number of minorities. "The prevailing attitude in Hollywood is that dramatic shows about people of color and their problems are not of commercial interest," said Weiner, who is white.

It took Weiner and fellow executive producer Judy Polone more than two years to develop and cast "Riot," which is being told in four different stories with varying ethnic viewpoints:

* "Chasing the Dream of Gold Mountain," by Galen Yuen, looks at the struggles of an Asian family owning a small market in South-Central Los Angeles. It focuses on their angry son, who resents the fact that he must adopt the slang and style of young blacks to survive in a community that resents his family and culture.

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