Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 Themes
by Anna Deavere Smith

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Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 Themes

(Drama for Students)

Actual events provide the focus and stated or implied reference point for all of the monologues that make up Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, The main incidents are the beating of Rodney King; the verdict in the first trial of the LAPD officers involved; the ensuing civil unrest, including the shooting, burning, and looting; the beating of Reginald Denny; the second King trial and verdict; and the hearing and verdict in the L.A. Four trial.

Anger and Hatred
Closely related to themes of race and racial prejudice, anger and hatred have a powerful, resonating presence in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Some of the persons, like Rudy Salas, Sr., the Mexican artist, seem almost consumed with hatred. His is directed against "gringos," especially white police officers. His anger is shared by others, mostly by inner-city blacks and Latinos who resent the treatment afforded them by the LAPD, what Theresa Allison calls "the hands of our enemy, the unjust system."

Atonement and Forgiveness
Some of the more reflective voices in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 express a prayer or hope that what LA citizens experienced throughout the unrest will give way to a future reconciliation and community harmony and peace among different ethnic groups. It is the "room'' that Reginald Denny plans for his future house, a room that is "just gonna be people," where a person's race will not matter. It is the hope, too, of Otis Chandler, former publisher of the LA Times. He believes that someday LA can become "a safe, pleasant city, for everybody, regardless of where they live or what they do or what the color of their skin is.'' The new harmony would be the community's atonement for the past, and it would have to involve forgiveness.

Others are far more pessimistic, however. There is, for example, Mrs. Young-Soon Han, who believes that racial hatred still burns deeply and can ignite at any time, although, as a Korean, she would like to find a way to live together with blacks. And there are those like Gladis Sibrian, Director of the Farabundo Mart National Liberation Front, who believe that "there is no sense of future, sense of hope that things can be changed.''

Civil Rights
The failure of the first Rodney King trial to produce an acceptable verdict led to a second, federal trial on the grounds that the LAPD officers had violated King's civil rights. The issues of civil rights and justice thus lie at the core of the play's matter, and the idea that minority groups have been denied those rights is echoed by various persons. According to Mike Davis, writer and urban critic, the thrust of the civil rights movement was to insure equality for everyone, but, ironically, even privileged whites are losing rights to police-enforced laws that limit such freedoms as movement and the right of assembly. Another figure, Bill Bradley, a U.S. Senator from New Jersey, recounts the experience of a black friend who was stopped by LAPD officers while riding in a car with a white woman. The friend was forced to lie face-down on the ground and was questioned while an officer held a gun to his head. Bradley laments that the "moral power" of the law firm where his friend was interning was not invoked by the firm's partners. Without that moral coercion, the laws that give us all citizens equal rights remain only theoretical.

Class Conflict
Although the central conflict associated with the LA turmoil was based in racial divisions, there is clearly a relationship between race relations and economic class, particularly in the distinction between the impoverished inner-city residents "of color'' and wealthy suburban whites. Some of the bitterness of the blacks and Latinos is based on what is perceived as class privilege, not just race. For example, much of Katie Miller's anger is directed against the implicit assumption by the media that the poor people who looted the I. Magnin store on Wilshire Boulevard were "thugs," inferior to the rich people who shopped there. She deplores the "give me your money and...

(The entire section is 1,633 words.)