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Reliving the Riots That Sparked and Burned

Anniversary of L.A. disturbances is searing backdrop for documentary specials 3/27/2017 8:00 AM Eastern
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Networks are marking the 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots with several documentaries and specials.

The 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots will be the subject of several television documentaries and specials premiering in April.

A&E Network’s April 18 special, L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later, will chronicle the days-long rioting in the city, which were sparked by the April 1992 acquittal of four white Los Angeles Police Department officers in the beating of Rodney King. Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton will executive- produce the special, which will look at the riots through the lens of the people who experienced the violence and unrest up close, according to network officials.

Singleton said in a statement that events leading up to the riots, as well as the aftermath, have never been given a voice prior to the documentary. “As a native Los Angeleno, I know the actions of that three-day event didn’t just appear out of thin air ... the city was a powder keg boiling at the seams for many years under police brutality and economic hardship of people of color,” Singleton said.

Broadcast network ABC on April 28 will air the John Ridley-produced documentary Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992, chronicling the conflict between law enforcement and the black community that existed in the city during that time period through eyewitness interviews with people involved directly in the events.

Smithsonian Channel will provide a bird’s-eye view of the days following the King verdict as part of its April 23 special, The Lost Tapes: L.A. Riots. The two-hour special, featuring no narration, will instead tell the story of the riots through media coverage, home videos, photographs and recordings from the LAPD, said David Royle, executive vice president of programming and production for Smithsonian Channel.

“When you look at the L.A. riots, what we’ve been able to do is access hours of footage shot by police officers in the LAPD during the riots, much of which has never been broadcast before,” he said.

The documentaries surrounding the L.A. riots come amid recent industry recognition of TV projects that have revisited high-profile historical events. Last September, FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series, while ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America in February won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

Smithsonian’s Royle said there is renewed interest among viewers in revisiting historical events.

“We believe there’s a gap in the marketplace and a public hunger for programming that is real dramatic — enticing, but grounded in a true world of history,” he said. “We want to showcase great drama that doesn’t need reinventing — we think there’s enough drama in history without a need to reinvent it.”

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