On Wednesday, Jan. 18, Bellevue College students read original creative works in reaction to the play “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.” This play was first written and performed by Professor Anna Deavere Smith after the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Also known as the Rodney King riots, these protests arose in reaction to the acquittal of four Caucasian police officers from the Los Angeles Police Department who had been charged with using excessive force when arresting an African-American named Rodney King. The police were caught on video severely beating King and the footage drove angry citizens to organize civilian protests, which devolved into complete chaos that included looting, violence and arson.
“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” is a series of statements by people who experienced the riots or were connected to the trial through interviews. The original play includes 36 different individuals such as LAPD Chief Daryl Gates, a nameless juror from the police trial, a Korean shopkeeper and King’s aunt, all of whom were directly linked to the event as participants or onlookers. A statement of Reginald Denny, the Caucasian truck driver who was pulled out of his car and beaten nearly to death by a group of protestors, showcases the horrifying images of racial tension that Americans witnessed on their televisions.
The event was directed by Tammi Doyle, chair of the BC Theater Arts Department of Drama and Dance and produced by Program Chair Leslie Lum. The event was conceived by BC English professor Nan Ma.
“A couple of years ago, Professor Leslie Lum of the Business Transfer Program worked tirelessly to bring Terrance Hayes, National Book Award winner for poetry, to campus. Hayes is scheduled to visit BC in spring quarter 2017. In anticipation of his visit, a group of faculty from different disciplines discussed the possibility of building a year-long initiative on Social Justice for Black Lives. This event is part of that initiative. I chose Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 because I believe the play offers a complex picture of race relations in the U.S. and looks at race in relation to issues of masculinity and social and economic class, topics that have contemporary relevance,” said Ma.
The Twilight project links with specific outcomes, according to Ma. She seeks “to raise awareness of a historical event that is still being repeated in contemporary time. The continuum between the beating of Rodney King and the physical and institutional forms of violence that [are] done to black bodies in recent years shatters the myth that we live in a post-racial society.”
Bellevue College students shared their personal experiences and stories as well. BC student Rowan Fickle explained that “this was originally an extra credit assignment. Shortly thereafter, someone approached me and asked if I would be willing to read my essay at this event and I had to take the opportunity for my own voice to be heard.”