News from the Field

Filmmaker John Singleton reflects on the 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots

Twenty-five years ago, John Singleton was a bright young filmmaker at the top of his game. Bursting out of the University of Southern California screenwriting program, he wrote and directed Boys in the Hood, for which he picked up Academy Award nominations for best screenplay and best director.

“I had no idea what I was doing was so socially relevant. I just thought I was a storyteller,” Singleton told me in front of a crowd of journalism funders in Los Angeles last week. 

Tonight, Singleton’s latest film—L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later—will premiere on the A&E Network, and it is abundantly clear that his work is socially relevant.

L. A. Burning is a powerful retelling of the familiar story of the 1992 L. A. riots, which were triggered by the acquittal of police officers who had been caught on video beating motorist Rodney King. The film offers a fresh take that is both highly personal, featuring Singleton’s voice then and now, and deeply reported, with current-day recollections from some of the pivotal actors in the drama from a quarter century ago.

Also appearing tonight directly opposite L. A. Burning is the next episode of Singleton’s Rebel,  an entertainment series on the BET Network about a black detective driven out of the Oakland police force after an incident in which she wounds a fellow police officer in an unsuccessful effort to keep her own brother from being shot. 

On top of that, Singleton has another series—Snowfall—ready to broadcast on the FX Network this summer, which depicts the emergence of crack cocaine onto the streets of Los Angeles in 1984.

What brings all of these projects together is a writer’s eye and the authentic voice of a native son of South Central Los Angeles. As he said of his time at USC a long time ago, “If you want to make movies, learn how to write.”

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