“My dad is a historical figure, you know?”
An almost reverent hush had settled over the audience at the Mark Taper Forum.
Lora Dene King, the daughter of Rodney King, wanted to say a few words before the screening of “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” the seminal documentary-style play about the chaotic uprising that followed the acquittal of four Department officers. Los Angeles Police. in the beating of her father.
In fact, 30 years after its Taper premiere and Broadway run, “Twilight” returned to Los Angeles this month. But this time, instead of playwright Anna Deavere Smith playing dozens of real-life characters, using quotes from hundreds of post-acquittal interviews with activists, police officers, juries, academics, and business owners, there’s a cast of five. And it has been updated, with new reflections and new scenery.
It is the first performance of “Twilight” the younger King has seen.
“He deserves this,” she said of the way the play is reminiscent of her father, drawing grim nods from the audience. “We saw him suffer.”
We still do.
It was only in January that lawyers for Tire Nichols’s family compared his brutal beating by the Memphis police to what the Los Angeles police did to King. And even when King’s name is not mentioned, the ghost of him is present in videos of George Floyd, Keenan Anderson, Tamir Rice, etc. so many other black men and women who did not survive encounters with police.
So, it’s impossible to watch a “Twilight” showing in 2023 and not use it as a yardstick for how far we’ve come and what we haven’t come in both our actions and our attitudes.
Are we still, as Twilight Bey’s character says so poignantly at the end of the play, “caught in limbo,” like the “sun caught between night and day”?
Thirty years is a long time. Long enough for a new generation to be born and raised unaware and long enough for an older generation to forget all the ways Los Angeles still burned in 1993. The scars of destruction and violence were still fresh then. Entire blocks had been wasted. Anger and mistrust were there too, along with haunting questions about what might happen next. .
Angelenos, like many Americans, were looking for healing and understanding, and for ways to build multiracial and multiethnic coalitions. “Twilight” was hailed for giving audiences all of that by providing a window into people’s thought and suffering, using their own words.
We hear from Korean liquor store owners about fear of gangs, lack of understanding of the racial dynamics of Los Angeles, and being considered “model minority” immigrants while being marginalized.
We heard from Latino Angelenos who distrusted the police as much as black Angelenos, but were torn between solidarity and aspirations toward whiteness and shy away from the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder.
We hear from Black Angelenos about rampant racism in Los Angeles and the culture of fear and pattern of brutalization by police.
And, of course, we heard from the cops about the racist us-versus-them mentality with which they patrolled the streets.
In 1993, long before social media and smartphones, let alone racial reckoning, such musings were eye-opening. “Twilight” opened people’s eyes to the powder keg-like conditions that turned the acquittal of the King beating into an explosive uprising that cost 63 lives and more than $1 billion in property damage.
More importantly, the play also suggested a way forward for Los Angeles.
As the character Bey, who in real life helped forge the truce between the Bloods and the Crips in Watts in 1992, puts it: “I see the light as knowledge and wisdom of the world, and understanding of others. For me to be a, to be a true human being, I can’t live forever in the dark. I can’t live forever with the idea of just identifying with people like me and understanding myself and my own.”
Those words are just as powerful in 2023 as they were in 1993.
In fact, the updated version of “Twilight” still provides that much-needed window of understanding and opportunity for healing in Los Angeles. It just worries me that, all these years later, audiences are too tired, too jaded, or maybe too overwhelmed to look through it and see the people on the other side.
This certainly seemed to be the case when I watched “Twilight” last week. It was Black Out Night at the Taper, designed to keep blacks “focused and welcome to historically white dominated spaces.” And so most, but not all, in the audience were black.
Except for some murmurs of sympathy for a Korean-American character who was shot, and for Reginald Denny’s character, the white man who was dragged out of his truck and beaten to a pulp, it was clear whose side most of the people were on. people. No additional understanding is needed.
Then again, we’re not the strangers we were in 1993 either.
We have all seen the rise of anti-Asian hate and many have stood up, or at least tweeted and wrote, in solidarity. We have also seen the mass shootings, first in Monterey Park and then in Half Moon Bay, which have exposed the fallacies of the “model minority” stereotype and highlighted the need for more community-based mental health services.
In the now infamous audio recording of four Latino leaders, including three Los Angeles City Council members, conspiring to consolidate political power, we all hear anti-black racism and colorism. And with the leaked snippets going viral, condemnation was swift, particularly from younger activists of all races and ethnicities.
And month after month, we all see videos of black people being killed in violent encounters with 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 go nowhere, to last resort lawsuits costing 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 whatever reason, we’re still here in the present with Rodney King, the historical figure.
Thirty years is a long time to be stuck in limbo. Live in the twilight.