At the end of <i>Twilight: Los Angeles</i>, her searing multi-voiced portrait of the violent aftermath of the Rodney King trial, Anna Deavere Smith, in the persona of black activist Twilight Bey, explains that ideas before their time seem stuck in limbo, like the sun at twilight: “I see the darkness as myself and the light as the knowledge and wisdom of the world and the understanding of others. To be a true human being, I can’t forever dwell in darkness and understand only me and mine.”
Most of what happened in Los Angeles in April 1992 after the police officers who beat King were acquitted resulted from the failure of individuals to put themselves in others’ shoes. Smith interviewed scores of people to construct her dramatic monologue, ranging from police commissioner Stanley Sheinbaum and former police chief Daryl Gates to Korean store owners whose businesses were looted and burned; from driver Reginald Denny to Henry Watson, one of the men who hauled him from his truck and beat him; from Beverly Hills talent and real estate agents to jurors at King’s two trials; from gun advocate Charlton Heston to Elvira Evers, a pregnant black cashier who was shot and whose baby was born with a bullet in her arm.
Filmmaker Marc Levin of Slam, winner of the 1998 Grand Jury Prize, has intercut Smith’s portrayals with footage from the King beating and the riot, along with updated interviews and shots of Smith cruising the neighborhoods today. The fires in Los Angeles may be out, but the ethnic antagonisms that caused them are still smoldering.
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