So I've been rediscovering an old favorite on cable, Boyz n the Hood. I've always loved this movie--engaging, three dimensional characters [even Doughboy and Ricky's mom--she's awful but that shot where she sobs over Ricky's SAT scores is heart-breaking], riveting performances and sequences, and an unexpected poignancy amid the nihilism and endless cycle of murder. Watching it in 2014 something jumps out immediately--how very early '90s is this movie.
|"You gotta problem with my high-fade?"|
|Werk the Jheri curl, Doughboy. WERK IT.|
|Trey, you really need to work on your game.|
But in another way as well. The early-to-mid '90s was one of those periods when Los Angeles was on the public mind a lot. That happens sometimes--for whatever reason a city is hot and happening, piques our collective interest. In the mid-aughts that city was Boston--after the '04 ALCS, when the Red Sox came from a 0-3 deficit to win not just the playoffs (defeating their arch rivals, the Yankees), but then went on to win the World Series in spectacular fashion, Boston's stock went through the roof. Movies were made about Boston, like Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone and The Departed. The Patriots finally won not just one but three Super Bowls. Heck, even the Big Dig finally concluded. Boston was IT.
But in the early '90s, L.A. was getting the attention. Perhaps inspired by Steve Martin's delightful fantasy L.A. Story, movies like Boyz n the Hood and Pretty Woman appeared, both of which came out in the very early part of the decade. Oh and a hot new TV series called Beverly Hills, 90210 which [flowery granny dresses and mullets aside], actually holds up rather well today. Equal parts titillating and level-headed, 90210 as much as any other pop phenomenon helped crystallize our early '90s collective cultural fascination with L.A.
|You know that 90210 must've been referencing that famous snooty saleswoman|
scene in Pretty Woman with this subplot: Brenda's boss is stealing commissions
["Look sweetie, we are coming off the worst Christmas ever..."--more early '90s topicality!]...
|..so Carol dresses up as a rich BH matron and makes her look a fool. |
Almost as satisfying as Julia's "You work on commission, right?...
Big mistake. Big. HUGE. I have to go shopping now..."
But as engaging as 90210 and Pretty Woman were, ultimately they were upstaged by the stark reality of the 1992 riots which exploded in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict and whose aftershocks reverberated throughout the decade. [Appropriately 90210 referenced the riots in an episode that aired just a few months afterward.]
I well remember the coverage of the riots, especially the horrific footage of the attack on Reginald Denny from the news helicopter hovering overhead which are the defining images of the riots for so many reasons.
- The odd angle of the footage, the weird you are there quality* as if the attackers could reach up and pull down the helicopter just as they had opened up Denny's truck and plucked him out.
- The way the attackers danced around, performing for the camera and taunting the viewer, and the casual nature of the incredible violence, as though it were a game to stomp on another human being, to drop a concrete slab on someone's head.
- And the final surreal note, that it wasn't even dark yet--the Denny attack took place in broad daylight...
[I thought about embedding in this post some of the pictures from the terrible attack on Reginald Denny and in the end, decided not to for a couple of reasons, the main one being because nearly every site where I found the images online had some sort of racist agenda.]
Although most observers attribute the violence to rage and frustration over the acquittal in the King case, another much-less known incident helped stoke public anger as well. In March of '91, just a few days after the video footage of the King beating surfaced, a girl by the name of Latasha Harlins was killed by a shop owner. The woman mistakenly assumed Latasha had stolen the orange juice she was carrying and confronted her. The confrontation turned violent, the girl tried to leave after discarding the juice container and the shop owner killed Latasha as she walked away--shot her in the back of the head. The case went to trial later that year and, incredibly, the woman received no jail time whatsoever, notwithstanding a guilty verdict for voluntary manslaughter. Without a doubt Latasha's tragic death contributed to the rage many of the rioters felt--many rappers and hip hop artists such as Ice Cube and Tupac specifically referenced her.
|Tell me what's a black life worth/|
A bottle of juice is no excuse...
So 90210 and Pretty Woman polished off the fantasy and the '92 riots shattered our glitzy, safe illusions. And then came OJ.....
To be continued...
*This you are there potential was fully realized when four ordinary, unarmed citizens--all black, by the way--saw the attack on TV and ventured out to help Denny. Which was more than the damn LAPD, who had abandoned the Florence-Normandie neighborhood once the riot had gotten well underway, did.