The Los Angeles riots, six days of civil unrest in response to the acquittal of the four police officers who brutally beat Rodney King, happened over twenty years ago right in Hollywood’s backyard, but only now does there seem to be a chance that a Hollywood film will be made telling the story. According to an exclusive report from Vulture, Universal is now in talks with the suddenly hot Fast Five director Justin Lin to direct a project called L.A. Riots, which will tell the story of the Rodney King beating, the trial and acquittal of the four LAPD officers, and the six days of violence which killed 53 people and injured over 2,000 over six days in April/May 1992.
According to Vulture, the project has been in the works at Universal since 2006, with Spike Lee set to direct a script written by John Ridley, the screenwriter of the recent sleeper hit Red Tails. At this point it’s unknown whether Lin would be working with Ridley’s existing script or starting anew. As Vulture points out, Red Tails was originally supposed to be released the same year the riots actually happened and only got into theaters this year, so L.A. Riots could still have a lot further to go in its journey to production.
The main reason the Spike Lee version of the film never got off the ground was a dispute over budget. Lee told MTV news in an exclusive interview in 2009: “We didn’t get the money that we needed to make the movie I wanted to make. How can you scale back the LA riots?! That’s not the movie I want to make.”
The MTV news report repeats what is probably the conventional wisdom, which is that Lee would have been the ideal director to tackle this subject matter, but to me it would seem strange to have a director so thoroughly associated with New York direct a film about one of the most important stories of recent Los Angeles history and I actually think Lin could be ideal for this. As film critic Wesley Morris has pointed out, Lin’s Fast and Furious movies are about the only big Hollywood films to accurately reflect the multi-cultural, multi-racial reality of contemporary America. Lin’s splashy feature film debut, Better Luck Tomorrow, while not a great film by any means, was one of the strongest blows ever struck against the Asian-American “model minority” stereotype in mainstream American culture. The Taiwan-born Lin is a west coast guy, having grown up in a working class part of Orange County, California, and his demonstrated facility with handling extremely diverse casts and his background would possibly make it more likely that a Lin-directed version of the story would show sensitivity to all the different communities affected by the violence, including Korean-Americans and other Asian-Americans.
Lin is currently in the middle of shooting the sixth movie of the Fast and Furious franchise and Vulture speculates that “Universal is seeking to keep him happy by allowing him to tackle a topic that’s quite a bit more serious.” I agree with Morris that, though the Fast and Furious movies themselves are ridiculous, Lin’s seamless ability to accurately reflect our multi-racial, multi-cultural world does serve a serious purpose in contemporary popular culture. Lin has become a really hot director in Hollywood, since he took over the ailing Fast and Furious franchise and made it hugely profitable again. In addition to L.A. Riots he as been attached to the next Terminator film, which apparently is a thing that’s going to happen. Lin also directed the Community action movie homage episode “Modern Warfare” seen by many as the best ever episode of that show if not one of the greatest sitcom episode in the history of the form.