New documentary looks at LA riots and hip hop

A new documentary produced by VH1 is premiering at SXSW just in time for the 20th anniversary of the L.A. riots.  “Uprising: Hip Hop & The LA Riots” (narrated by Snoop Dogg) talks to rappers, rioters, victims and police who remember the uprising. “Rebellions, revolutions, sacrifices have to be made… there’s always going to be bloodshed,” says one subject. According to the film’s synopsis:  “Uprising” documents how hip hop forecasted — and some say ignited — the worst civil unrest of the 20th century.  (Watch the trailer below)One commenter over on Indiewire’s website took issue with the idea that hip hop was behind the unrest, writing:  “Hip Hop wasn’t the catalyst. INJUSTICE was the catalyst.”

The comments on the film’s YouTube page also reveal just how conflicted we still are:

So the people felt that they were wronged by the government. . . So their response was to steal from their neighbors.

Another commenter writes:

People are watching everything about wrongs in society. And they had reached a boiling point. When you have the govt whoop someone’s ass like a dog on TV and then jury say nothing is wrong the city will explode.

What do you think? What do you remember about the riots? How did they impact you? Watch the trailer and help us continue the conversation.


  1. Britta
    May 12, 2014, 2:42 am

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  • robin

    I remember when the verdict came out there was this strange electric current in the air. A beach blond actor friend of mine was just watching the tv like a zombie waiting for something to happen – he even made a joke about going down to the electronics store and waiting for it to start from there. I was at a friend's apartment in Hollywood and we both just looked at each other and at the same moment and said "let's get out of here". And so we did. We threw a bag of clothes and snacks and water in the car and took off for her sister's place up in the deep forest of Northern California. We didn't stop for anything. It wasn't until 5 hours later, while driving very slow looking for our turn, that we got pulled over. When the officer read my licensce he told us "you should be glad to be safe up here in the woods, because your whole city is on fire". It wasn't until we got to Zuni's house that we realized the horror of it all. The nighmarish televised beating of truck driver Reginald Denny was the first thing we saw. I will never forget those images. We didn't watch after that first night and tried to spend as much time as we could in nature hiking and spending time with my friend's family. When we returned 3 days later the whole city was still smoldering. It looked very apocolyptic. l learned my neighborhood in Korea town had been evacuated and they were just starting to let people back in. It was really not recognizable as most of the small businesses had been destroyed.

  • Terri

    It was the day before final exams at USC – as a freshman from Canada, I really didn't understand the culture or tension in LA. I didn't really watch TV, either, even though my roommate had one in our room. Not knowing anything was happening outside the gates, I had gone to a meeting in the other dorm complex. At the end of the meeting, we were told that USC had us on lockdown, and that the city was in flames and in riot. Several of us ended up going to the rooftop of one of the dorms and started counting how many blocks away the fires and explosions were – the closest one was 6 blocks away from us. I called home to Canada on someone's phone just to say that I was OK. We also found out that finals were cancelled for the next day. The next morning, my friend and I ran back to our dorm and watched the news report all the fires and looting happening around us. One station showed the quarantined area and USC was on the top edge of that zone. Then, the National Guard rolled in. Our dining hall downstairs became a 24-hour mess hall for LAPD and the National Guard. My friend and I wanted to stay, and to go out into the streets to help with clean-up. My parents wanted to fly down to be with me. My friend's parents wanted to drive up from Orange County to pick us up. Of course, we were hearing and watching reports of car-jacking as people waited at stoplights at the end of freeway off-ramps, so we told him that we would leave for the OC and for them not to come for us. Honestly, we felt safe on campus. But we left so that our families would have a peace of mind. We returned three days later to find some streets virtually the same and others completely destroyed. It was very surreal.

  • abidalilliane

    So true that in the United States many are gang related and they don;t like that fact that people are exploiting their own culture, I think we can't avoid this.
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  • josh

    I went with my Boy Scout Troop to clean up on the weekend that followed the riots. Mostly, we swept up glass from the shattered windows of businesses on Fairfax Ave in a neighborhood called Little Ethiopia. We never saw any employees. Now that I think about what we did was pretty dangerous, going into a dangerous neighborhood a day after a riot, walking into some stranger’s business without their permission, picking up glass shards and placing those shards in plastic trash bags. Maybe because I was 12-years-old at the time I didn’t think about risks. I spent most of that day with a parent of another scout. He was, black, really tall, and angry looking. At some point during that day he and I started talking about HIV; I don’t know why. He told about a conspiracy, that HIV was created in a lab by the US government to kill off African Americans. I believed him.

  • josh

    I went home and told my mom about the “true” origin of HIV. She laughed and so I asked her if the man’s story was untrue. She said that it wasn’t true and that guy who told me that story was just “one of those paranoid Black guys” who believe that White people and the US government are still racist. By the way, so that anybody who actually read this know, my mom and I are White. I didn’t respond. I wanted to say something because it seemed to me that the riots were, at least in part, motivated by an injustice, the acquittal of White cops facing criminal charges for beating of a Black man, Rodney King. To me, then and now, that acquittal was motivated by racism. Later that day my mom and I went for a drive to see the damage done by in the riots. We passed a Circuit City that had plywood covering all the windows, saw a lot of garbage and glass, went into a local pet store burned black; I assume all the pets died.

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