On the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles uprising, ABC is airing Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992, a captivating new documentary from writer/director John Ridley that goes in-depth to look at the years and events leading up to the city-wide violence that began on April 29, 1992, when the verdict in the Rodney King case was announced. The film features exclusive interviews with eyewitnesses and people directly involved in the events, as it traces the roots of the civil unrest to a decade before the uprising and delves beyond the conflicts between law enforcement and the black community to look at tensions across the city as a whole.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Academy Award winner John Ridley talked about how this documentary came about, his interest in the subject matter, deciding how to shape the story and give it context, how making this documentary changed his own perspective and gave him deeper insight, and what it was like to visit the intersection of Florence & Normandie, so many years later. He also talked about what made him want to write and direct the feature adaptation of Needle in a Timestack, from the novel by Robert Silverberg, and that he’s still hoping to do that mysterious and super secretive Marvel TV project that he’s been working on.
Collider: How did Let it Fall come about? I know you’d been thinking about exploring this subject theatrically and that didn’t work out, but had you been thinking about exploring it in documentary form?
JOHN RIDLEY: I had not really thought about exploring it in documentary form. It’s not a space in which I normally work. It was a subject matter that I’d given a lot of time and attention, and I was just very fortunate that some producers from Lincoln Square Productions, which is a part of ABC and ABC News, had approached me. They weren’t aware of my interest in the subject matter, or how long I’d been working on it and researching it in a different format. It was really just very serendipitous. The had the resources because they’d had so much news that they had been working with, as well as the producers whose job it is to go out and find people, conduct interviews like this, and be very, very thorough. And then, it was for me to have a concept of a narrative, so that we could present it in a way where it didn’t feel like just a dry recitation of facts, but that there was a weaving of these stories and a culmination of those circumstances and emotions. Working with Disney turned out to be very advantageous because a lot of people had interest, at the right moment.
It seems as though you could have kept going back in time, if you’d wanted to, or drawn parallels to the present, if you’d wanted to do that, so how did you decide the story you wanted to tell and the way that you wanted to frame it, exploring the time period between 1982 and 1992?
RIDLEY: I think you’re correct, you could roll this story back five or 10 years prior to where we started. You could go all the way back to 1965. Equally, you could go forward and make comparisons to the events that are happening right now, around the country. For us, it was trying to create a space where we could really give context to these events for the audience. In 1982, it was essentially the end of what they called the chokehold era, in terms of the LAPD interacting with the citizenry and the introduction of the PR-24, which obviously played a huge part in the assault on Rodney King. So, there was some context there. And for me, personally, I was very cautious to trying to draw parallels to circumstances that are happening in the present day. There are obviously similarities, but all of these circumstances – whether it was L.A. in ‘65 or ‘92, or Cincinnati, or Detroit, or Ferguson, or Baltimore – despite their similarities, are singular events that deserve their own examination. I don’t want people to walk away going, “Oh, this is that. They’re the same thing.” Interactions change, instances are different, and demographics change. For us, it was about having some context for the story, but without spreading our perspective too wide.
It’s interesting that the officers involved with the Rodney King beating refused to be a part of this, but those who were responsible for pulling Reginald Denny from his vehicle and beating him were willing to speak to you. Did that surprise you?
RIDLEY: Those are some of the most potent images that remain from the uprising. I had no expectation that either group would be more or less forthcoming. It may be a slight bit of semantics, but I would say that the officers declined more than refused. We had bits of conversation with them, to different degrees. Obviously, in the end, none of them chose to sit down on camera. I do appreciate that the other individuals – the surviving members of the L.A. Four – were willing to speak. I think it was very interesting to see where those three individuals are now, in the present day, and that they run the spectrum of emotions. They are complete people. That is not forgiving or excusing what they’ve done, but there was more to them, as people, prior to the assault on Reginald Deny, and there’s more to them now. I would have loved the opportunity for the officers to put themselves in context. You can’t contextualize what they did. It simply would have been a benefit for them to sit down and present themselves, as people. It would have been very interesting to see where they lay on that spectrum, as well.