For the 25th Anniversary of the LA Riots, Spike Lee has made an hour long film “Rodney King”, which you can find on Netflix, featuring Roger Guenveur Smith. It describes King’s infamous, brutal, run in with LA cops on March 3, 1991 and the aftermath that led to the riots. It’s a poetic, spoken word, one man show, and it’s mesmerizing, and raw.
Roger Guenveur Smith talks about Rodney’s life, the high speed chase that led to his interaction with the group of cops that beat him nearly to death. His performance is stunning, and intense. He travels through the beating, his heart stopping depiction infuriates anyone with a conscience, before moving through 1992, the trial and acquittal of the officers, and the aftermath, describing the 1992 LA riots, where 55 people lost their life.
The acquittal of the cops, who beat Rodney with metal batons, and stunned him with a stun gun, was captured on video by a man in the apartment block that Rodney pulled over in front of after the police chase. Though the man initially took the video to the LA police, he was told they couldn’t use it, so he took it to a local news channel. The video was played locally, then nationally, and then internally, as it clearly showed police brutality.
King had stated that he refused to pull over, because he was driving under the influence, and if caught, it violated his parole for a previous robbery charge, however, that obviously does not excuse his treatment at the hands of the police. After the beating, when he was tased twice, baton hit over fifty times, and kicked six, he suffered brutal injuries, including, a facial fracture, a broken ankle, broken teeth, 11 skull fractures, kidney failure and emotional and physical trauma.
While drenched in sweat, Roger Gueveur Smith, walks you through the event, building up a picture of a man who’s name is well known for one event, the rest of his life largely unknown.
With spoken word prose, the story continues, talking about some of the lives lost during the racially fired Los Angeles Riots in 1992, the riots continuing so long, that Rodney King finally made a statement, saying;
The National Guard is called in to try and end the riots, and in1993, four of the officers responsible for beating King are indicted. Two are found guilty of violating King’s rights, two are let go. In 1994 King is awarded 3.8 million dollars, though he’d originally asked for 1 million dollars per blow the officers had landed on him, totally 58 million dollars. It was a low amount, and it seemed it was given just to try and appease the public and avoid a second bunch of riots.
The story ends with the 2012 drowning of King, talking about his addiction issues, and his father’s addiction issues.
Roger Geuveur Smith delivers a fantastically raw performance, trying little details into a monumental poetic performance about brutality, race, and life. It’s not to miss, Spike Lee creates a fantastically live one man performance, focusing on emotion, reaction, and lights, leaving the audience breathless and hurting for King.