Column: “Twilight” once showed Los Angeles how to heal. Now it shows us that we’re still broken

“My father is a historical figure, you know?”

An almost respectful silence fell over the audience at the Mark Taper Forum.

Lora Dene King, Rodney King’s daughter, wanted to say a few words before a performance of “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” the seminal documentary-style play about the chaotic uprising that followed the acquittal of four police officers at the home of his father. beat.

Indeed, 30 years after its Taper premiere and Broadway run, “Twilight” returned to Los Angeles this month. But this time, instead playwright Anna Deavere Smith portrays dozens of real-life characters – using quotes from hundreds of interviews with activists, cops, jurors, academics and business owners after the acquittal – there are five actors. And it has been updated, with new reflections and new scenes.

This is the first performance of “Twilight” the young king has ever seen.

“He deserves it,” she said of how the coin commemorates her father, drawing somber nods from the audience. “We saw him suffer.”

We still do.

It wasn’t until January that attorneys for Tire Nichols’ family compared his brutal beating by Memphis police to what the Los Angeles Police Department did to King in March 1991. And even when King’s name is not mentioned, the specter of him is present in videos of George Floyd, Keenan Anderson, Tamir Rice and so on, SO many other black men and women who did not survive encounters with police.

It is therefore impossible to watch a performance of “Twilight” in 2023 and not use it as a tool for measuring how far we have and have not traveled in both our actions and our attitudes.

Are we still, as the character of Twilight Bey so poignantly puts it at the end of the play, “stuck in limbo”, like the “sun is stuck between night and day”?

Thirty years is a long time. Long enough for a new generation to be born and grow up unknowing and long enough for an older generation to forget all the ways Los Angeles was still simmering in 1993. The scars of destruction and violence were still fresh inside. era. Entire blocks had been devastated. The anger and mistrust were still there too, along with worried questions about what might happen next. .

Angelenos, like many Americans, sought healing and understanding, as well as ways to build multiracial and multiethnic coalitions. “Twilight” has been hailed for giving all of that to audiences by providing a window into people’s thoughts and suffering, using their own words.

Anna Deavere Smith in the original

Anna Deavere Smith portrayed dozens of real-life characters in the original “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.” This time around, there’s a cast of five, with new thoughts and new scenes.

(Jay Thompson / Center Theater Group)

Korean liquor store owners told us they were afraid of gangs, didn’t understand the racial dynamics of Los Angeles, and were seen as “model minority” immigrants while being marginalized.

We heard from Latino Angelenos who distrusted the police just as much as Black Angelenos, but who were torn between solidarity and whiteness aspirations and far from the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

We heard from Black Angelenos about the rampant racism in Los Angeles, the culture of fear, and the pattern of police brutality.

And, of course, we heard from the police about the racist, us versus them mentality with which they patrolled the streets.

In 1993, long before social media and smartphones, let alone racial calculations, such thoughts were telling. “Twilight” opened eyes to the powder keg conditions that turned King’s acquittal into an explosive uprising that claimed 63 lives and caused more than $1 billion in property damage.

More importantly, the piece also suggested a way forward for Los Angeles.

As Bey’s character, who in real life helped broker the truce between the Bloods and Crips in Watts in 1992, puts it: “I see the light as the knowledge and wisdom of the world, and the understanding of others. In order for me to be one, to be a true human being, I cannot dwell in darkness forever. I can’t dwell forever on the idea of ​​just identifying with people like me and understanding myself and mine.

These words are just as powerful in 2023 as they were in 1993.

Indeed, the updated “Twilight” still provides that much-needed window of understanding and opportunity for healing in Los Angeles. I’m just afraid that, all these years later, audiences are too exhausted, too jaded, or perhaps too overwhelmed to look through and see people on the other side.

That certainly seemed to be the case when I saw “Twilight” last week. It was Black Out Night at the Taper, designed to have black people “centered and welcomed into historically white-dominated spaces.” And so most, but not everyone, in the audience was black.

Except for a few whispers of sympathy for a Korean American character who was shot, and for the character of Reginald Denny, the white man who was dragged out of his truck and beaten to a pulp, it was clear whose side were the most people. No additional understanding needed.

Playwright Anna Deavere Smith, left, and director Gregg Daniel are pictured Friday February 10, 2023.

“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” by playwright Anna Deavere Smith and director Gregg Daniel, still resonates.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Then again, we’re not the strangers to each other either that we were in 1993.

We’ve all seen the rise of anti-Asian hatred and many have shown up – or at least tweeted and grammed – in solidarity. We also saw the mass shootings, first in Monterey Park and then in Half Moon Bay, which exposed the fallacies of the “model minority” stereotype and highlighted the need for more community mental health services.

In the now infamous audio recording of four Latino leaders, including three LA City Council members, plotting to consolidate political power, we’ve all heard anti-black racism and colorism. And with the leaked snippets going viral, condemnation has been swift, especially by young activists of all races and ethnicities.

And month after month, we all see videos of black people dying in violent encounters with the police, usually during a traffic stop. We all know what will happen next, from press conferences and marches, to criminal charges and internal investigations that will go nowhere, to last resort lawsuits that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

In 2023, we are anti-white supremacy, anti-police violence, anti-systemic racism, pro-community, pro-solidarity, pro-equity. But for some reason, we’re still in the present with Rodney King, the historical figure.

Thirty years is a long time to be stuck in limbo. Live at dusk.

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