What it took for Oscar winner John Ridley get the story of the 1992 Los Angeles riots to screen

Oscar winner John Ridley ("12 Years a Slave") is producing a documentary on the Los Angeles riots of 1992.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

In recent years, writer-producer-director John Ridley has been hailed for using his pointed storytelling abilities to spotlight edgy, uncomfortable topics ranging from the horrors of slavery (“12 Years a Slave”) to the explosive human drama of race and socioeconomic clashes in ABC’s anthology series “American Crime.”

The Oscar winner’s next endeavor is likely to be positioned beside those acclaimed projects as Ridley tackles an event that has long existed outside the comfort zone of Hollywood — the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Ridley has joined forces with ABC News’ Lincoln Square Productions for ”Let It Fall: L.A 1982 -1992,” a two-hour documentary offering an in-depth examination of the civil unrest which devastated much of South Los Angeles following the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers charged with using excessive force in the beating of African American motorist Rodney King.


The project, scheduled to air next spring on ABC, is pegged to the 25th anniversary of the unrest, and will begin a decade before the riots, telling the stories of numerous people from diverse communities, including black, white, Latino, Korean and Japanese American residents caught up in the uproar.

“The goal is to give the space to get the real details from people, and get beyond the images that everyone is so familiar with,” said Ridley in a telephone interview. “We’re looking at the cascade effect of certain events, actions and situations that I think clearly led to an environment where something like the uprising could happen.”

Among the interviewees are police commanders, patrolmen and members of city governments.

“We will see people who have transcended and learned and grown from 25 years ago, and then there are some people who have not been able to turn the page,” Ridley said. Revisiting the riots with those people was “challenging, illuminating and heartbreaking.”

Ridley, who won an Oscar for his ”12 Years a Slave” screenplay, is collaborating with several ABC News journalists led by award-winning documentary filmmaker Jeanmarie Condon.

“With everything that is going on in the country today, this is the perfect time to look at what led up to this event,” said Condon, who is an executive producer of “Let It Fall.”

Partnering with Ridley provided the opportunity for penetrating insights, Condon added: “John has a particular way of looking at race, class, socioeconomic tensions, while bringing his particular brand of humanity.” In addition to Ridley, Condon and Lincoln Square Productions are joining with well-known filmmakers of ABC Studios and Walt Disney Studios to produce original features.


Ridley has long been attempting to develop a project about the riots. He was first contacted a decade ago by director Spike Lee.

Much of that time was spent working on a scripted film that would look at the unrest from differing perspectives. Most recently he had teamed with producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard of Imagine Entertainment, and it seemed last year like the project, propelled by the success of the film “Straight Outta Compton,” might get off the ground..

But despite the successful track record of Ridley, Grazer and Howard, the larger Hollywood community considered a film about the riots to be a large risk.

“Ultimately, it was very distressing that there didn’t seem to be a space in Hollywood to tell this story,” said Ridley. “There were multiple perspectives. No hero or villain. A system that failed. Some people who rose and some who faltered. Year after year it was just so difficult, despite the efforts of people like Brian and Ron who really deserve so much credit for sticking with it for years.”

Moving forward with a documentary instead of a feature film allowed Ridley and Condon more flexibility to capture the complexities of the issues sparking the riots.

“To finally be able to render this, and have it not be just a creative narrative, really allows people the space to tell the recollections and provide a perspective that doesn’t get reduced,” said Ridley.”That is very, very special.”