Riot (1997)




Director:     Richard Di Lello (segment "Empty"); David C. Johnson ((segment "Homecoming Day"); Alex Munoz (segment "Caught in the Fever"); Galen Yuen (segment "Gold Mountain")     

Starring:     Dante Basco (segment "Gold Mountain");     Mario Van Peebles (Turner (segment "Homecoming Day"));     Kieu Chinh ((segment "Gold Mountain");     Luke Perry (Boomer (segment "Empty"));     Mako (Mr. Lee (segment "Gold Mountain"));     Alexis Cruz ((segment "Caught in the Fever"));     Yelba Osorio ((segment "Caught in the Fever"));     Kimberly Oja (John Ortiz (segment "Caught in the Fever"));     Douglas Spain (Manuel (segment "Caught in the Fever"));     Peter Dobson ((segment "Empty");     Melvin Van Peebles (Vernon (segment "Homecoming Day"));     Cicely Tyson (Maggie (segment "Homecoming Day")).

good movie about four interrelated stories of people harmed by the L.A. riots of 1992 following the innocent verdicts in the trial of the policemen who beat black Rodney King 



Spoiler warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Rodney King was badly beaten by the police when he was already on the ground. Trial at white city of Simi Valley.

Episode 1. Gold Mountain.

There is an Asian family named Li consisting of a mother and father and a son Jeffrey. The family runs a little store in the black area of Los Angeles. Jeffery hears his father having a discussion with a young black male suspected of shop-lifting. Jeffrey comes out and confronts the black fellow. The shorter Jeffrey is ready to fight the fellow, but his father keeps apologizing for his son. The black fellow, after saying over and over he didnít steal anything, now pulls out a product from under his shirt and shoves it into Jeffreyís chest. He calls Jeffrey a Buddha-head and leaves the store.

Jeffrey doesnít finish his lunch. He just tells his mother he has to go. Mom goes out later to the back yard and finds Jeffrey playing with the dog. He tells mom that he hates the way father lets all these fools walk all over him. Jeffrey says: "He never stands up to them and theyíre always pushing, always pushing." Mom defends dad saying that what Jeffrey doesnít see are his fatherís strengths.

A car pulls up with a couple of Jeffreyís Asian friends. Jeffrey jumps in and they go for a ride. Phil is the driver. A car full of black males drives up beside the Asian car and they ask whatís up? Jeffrey tells Phil to take off his sun glasses as he he and the front seat passenger did. But Phil refuses to take the glasses off. This really makes Jeffrey mad at him, because, as he says later to Phil, the blacks thought they were Mexicans. The only way to show the black toughs they are not Mexicans is to show the blacks their slant eyes by removing their sun glasses. Jeffrey says that they could have been killed because of Phil. Phil is unrepentant and still doesnít remove his glasses. He resents being treated as an enemy by the blacks.

The guys shop in one of those huge discount stores. A white lady starts criticizing them for taking six of something on special sale. Jeffrey tells the lady that half of the items are his. The lady still talks trash to the Asians and Jeffrey gets really mad. The lady starts calling for security. Jeffreyís friend still has a pistol on him, so he hurries out of the store. He comes back with Phil and they notice that the store is quickly emptying out. They wonder what is going on. They find out as soon as they see the televisions all with scenes of rioting in Los Angeles. People are being stopped and dragged from their cars. There is no police presence in the area.

Jeffrey tells Phil that they got to go. Jeffrey is concerned about getting back to his familyís store. Racing along the streets, Philís car is hit by another vehicle. Blacks gather around Philís car threatening Phil with violence. Jeffrey tells Phil that he has to get going. Phil steps on it. They take a back way and let Jeffrey off behind the family store.

Jeffrey is threatened by a fellow with a pistol when he objects to people taking items from his familyís store. He sees his mom. She is telling everyone that they can take whatever they wantĖ just please, donít burn down their store. Jeffrey goes in to his dad to protest this passive approach. Dad just tells Jeffrey that they are about to lose everything they have and that Jeffrey should stand by him at this time of danger. The family has a group hug.

When the looters start going into the back of the store where the family lives, mother tries to stop them. A large black man knocks her down with his fist. After rescuing his mother, Jeffrey runs over to stop the looters from taking their television and other valuable items. He starts fighting with an Hispanic fellow over the television and the looter threatens to smash the television down on Jeffrey. But before this can happen, dad shoots the Hispanic fellow with a pistol. The guy goes down. Jeffrey is shocked that his dad actually shot and killed a young man.

Dad shoves Jeffrey out the back door. Jeffrey bangs on the door, yelling to be let in. All of a sudden, there is a big explosion in the back of the store. Jeffrey runs around to the front of the store, but he canít save his father because the flames already cover the entire store. In disgust, he throws his 24-karat gold family heirloom kept on a necklace into the fire.

Episode 2. Caught in the Fever.

An Hispanic family watches television together in the living room. The set goes out and the younger brother of the family, Manny, goes over to bang on it to get it to produce a viewable picture. His sister-in-law tells him not to hit the television because his brother bought it for her.

The kid finally gets a good picture on the television. The news about the Rodney King affair is on the television. Manny asks Cisco, his older brother, if he could use his pickup truck to go see a girl. Cisco says he hasnít had the money to fix that flat tire he has had for oh, so long of a time.

Manny takes the bus. He gets off the bus and his girl Iris is waiting there for him. They kiss. She teases him by saying she is pregnant. He doesnít think the joke was at all funny. As they walk along the street, they see people looting the stores in the area. Manny runs into his friend, Carlos Sanchez, who is one of the looters.

Manny and Iris try to get Carlos to stop looting, but Carlos is not about to stop. He is getting too many goodies. They follow Carlos around. Manny sees just what he wants and needs Ė a great pair of brand new sneakers. He puts on the sneakers. Still following Carlos, Manny starts taking other things, but Iris still protests, until she sees a beautiful prom dress. Manny tells her to putt one of the dresses on. Iris resists, but Manny keeps encouraging her. She gives in and puts a beautiful dress on. She refuses, however, to take the dress with her. That is, until another looter grabs Irisís regular clothes and runs out of the shop with them. So now she is stuck with the prom dress.

Carlos, Manny and Iris rush out of the store. A news reporters for television asks Manny some questions. Back at home, Mannyís family suddenly see Manny on television with the looters. They are shocked and angry at his behavior. Mother tells Cisco to go get his brother.

Carlos has so much loot, that he steals a car and loads it up with all his ill-gotten gains. Manny starts to put his goods in the car too. He is happy to see Cisco arrive in his pickup truck. Manny thinks Cisco will be happy about the goods he has gotten for him and his wife. But he guessed wrong, because Cisco slaps his brother a couple of times and asks him if he is stupid. This shocks Manny and also makes him very angry. He refuses to go with Cisco. He goes with his friends and the stolen loot.

As Carlos drives the car away from the area, a young black man runs after the car shouting that the car belongs to him. Carlos is able to get away from the fellow. Manny is not through with his looting. He decides to make other stops. Iris leave Manny saying he makes her feel ashamed.

Carlos and Manny go into the Asian liquor store. Manny runs into the back of the store to get the television set. Jeffrey starts fighting with Carlos for the television. Dad shoots Carlos as he is about to hit Jeffrey in the head with the television. Manny sees this happen and he grabs a bat and starts destroying the liquor store. He looks down at his shoes and sees that he has blood on the left shoe. While swinging the bat, Manny broke lose a gas line. When the gas built-up ignites, it sets off a large explosion. It blows Manny out of the store and into the street and kills Jeffrey's father. Manny screams at the loss of his friend.

Episode 3. Empty.

A police officer named Boomer as a nickname drives his car through the run-down areas of Los Angeles. He stops his car on a back street, gets out and takes a look at a dead black man on the street. The police officer goes home. He has a girlfriend who is Asian. She complains about the Vietnamese and the way they speak English.

The policeman is concerned about this day being the day of the Rodney King verdict. He asks his girlfriend how did the country go from Martin Luther King to Rodney King? His girlfriend, however, is sick of hearing about Rodney King. Boomer wants the girl to move in with him, but she says she is not moving in until he is fully divorced from his wife.

Luke drives over to his ex-wifeís place to pick up his little girl Heather. Heather is running a little late, so Luke talks with his ex-wife. The television in the kitchen shows material about Rodney King and the officers. Luke says that the police just started beating King and forgot that they were supposed to be professionals. They did go too far.

Heather comes into the kitchen and greets her father. Dad is going to take her to school. She says that dad is grumpy today. He explains that he is worried about the Rodney King affair. Heather, however, doesnít care about the news. She wants to know if dad has a new girlfriend. Dad tells her no.

Boomer drives to the police station. His partner Chaz introduces his girlfriend Dawn to him. Inside the station, the policemen discuss the coming verdicts. When the policemen see Rodney on the television they curse at him and tell him off. They blame the liberals for this whole scandal and not themselves. The police see themselves as the victims here. Chaz says itís going to be rough if the jury lets the cops off. Boomer says it wonít happen. Chaz still wants to analyze a what if question. He says the police are not prepared to handle a large-scale riot. They have no contingency plans for a riot and have not received any recent instruction or training in handling riots. (There are lots of curse words used in this dialog.)

Boomer takes the day off to avoid any possible involvement in the squashing of a riot. Boomer tells him thatís just not right. Boomer stops at a diner where some of his comrades are finishing up their lunch. The verdict will be read live on television. Officer Powell is found not guilty. The police make it well-known that they are pleased. This makes some huge black guys in the diner very angry and they brazenly challenge the police. The police wisely let it go.

Boomer calls home and tells his ex-wife to stay in the house and keep her pistol close to her. He asks her if she wants him to come over. His ex-wife tells him that itís over and asks why canít he understand that?

Four officers walk out of court as free men. Boomerís car is stopped on the street by a hostile mob, cursing at him and throwing things at his car. He bravely or foolishly gets out of his car to tell them to step away from his vehicle. He calls in and asks for assistance, but he is told to ignore the rioting and get out of the area.

Boomer sees his comrades in some trouble with a large hostile group of blacks and others. The two police officers have had enough of this and tell Boomer that they are out of here. Now the crowd turns its anger on Boomer. He calls into headquarters again and again is told to withdraw from the area.

Boomer sees an old Asian man being roughed up and comes to the rescue. This really makes him a target of the mobís hostility and aggression. They say they are going to get him now. They completely surround Boomer. One man starts breaking the windows of his police car. Boomer takes his pistol out of its holster, but does not raise it up. But after a bit of more aggression directed his way he shoots a man in front of him twice. The mob quickly disperses. Boomer gets back in his car, but a man with a Molotov cocktail throws it at the hood of the car and it explodes. Boomer drives off with his hood on fire.


Episode 4. Homecoming Day.

Turner and his wife, a black couple, have just moved into a new house.  Turnerís wife tells him that she is pregnant. He is very happy to hear the news and the couple kisses. They recently moved out of Crenshaw because the wife feared an incident of possible violence there. Turner is leaving to go visit his mother in Crenshaw. He goes. The wife hears more news about the Rodney King trial and runs out to tell Turner to be very careful just in case there is trouble. Turner does not seem very concerned at all.

Turner makes a first stop at his deceased fatherís old liquor store, called Nateís. He visits there with his fatherís old friend Vernon. Turner tells the fellow that his wife and he are having a baby. The old guy is happy for the young couple.

The verdict of not guilty on all counts comes in. Turner takes off for his motherís house. He sees the start of the violence as black men attack a car with a white driver. Turnerís mother is busy at work at s barber shop. Turner comes in and kisses his mother. The group just saw the news about the trial and donít like it one bit. A black female says: "White folks do whatever they want to."

Maggie, Turnerís mother, wants the television channel changed or the television turned off. She lost her husband Nate in an earlier riot and is hyper-sensitive about this type of situation.

In private in the back Turner tells his mom that his wife Linda is pregnant. At first she doesnít realize what was said, but she is ecstatic when she finally gets the message. She hugs her boy.

As mom prepares to leave, everyone hears a terrific crash. And again a crowd is there looking to cause even more trouble for the Mexican driver. Turner canít stand back. He goes out there and tries to stop the ruffians. He knows some of the guys and he tells them they are wrong. The aggressors argue with Turner and call him a fool.

The whole barber shop is closing now because of the growing violence in the streets. Turner tells his mother to come and stay with him and Linda. She will go with him, but she warns him not to take these acts of aggression too lightly. Her husband did so and paid for it with his life. Mom has a flashback to the riot in which her husband was killed.

Turner and mom drive over to Nateís liquor store to retrieve Vernon. When they arrive at Nateís, Vernon is loading up his pump shotgun with ammunition. He says he has to protect his store. Itís everything he has. Maggie yells at Vernon that one man has already been lost in the defense of this store and she doesnít want to see another victim of violence.

Turner and Vernon go outside to talk to the mob. They tell the mob to go down to the town hall to tell the authorities there how they feel. They are answered by a thrown rock that hits Vernon on the right part of his forehead. Down the older man goes. Maggie comes out to help Vernon. She tells her son to go get help. Turner starts to run to his car, but itís too late. Carlos, Manny and Iris take off in his car.

Turner sees the police officer Boomer in trouble with a mob and he races over to render some assistance. Maggie begs him not to go for fear he will be shot. After a short while, Maggie hears two shots fired. She figures her son has been killed, but all of a sudden Turner comes running back to the store. They both help Vernon walk to safety. Turner is tempted to shoot the shotgun at those who throw Molotov cocktails at Nateís liquor store, but Maggie tells him not to resort to any more violence. He says sheís right. They start walking again.

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality . . ."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, December 10, 1961.


Interesting, four interrelated stories involving different families: an Asian family, an Hispanic family, a white policeman's family and a middle-class black family.  It's helpful to see how the reaction to the riots varied by ethnicity and class giving us more insight into the ethnic divisions within the United States.  All the families are harmed in some way by the rioting.  Rioting is usually a spontaneous reaction to some terribly upsetting event, but rioting is not a very good civil rights method to use.  It is just too indiscriminately devastating to all parties involved.  Rioting also directly provides assistance to racist organizations and politicians, who use the riots to justify further stifling of justified civil rights objectives. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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