Documentary on L.A. riots promotes unity, provides stark history

On Nov. 8, the Korean American Student Association, the anthropology, history and sociology departments and coordinator of Asian/ Asian-American studies Dr. Randy Kaplan welcomed filmmaker Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, who presented her documentary Wet Sand: Voices from LA ten Years Later.

Wet Sand explores the aftermath of the six days of riots in Los Angeles in April 1992. The film shows Kim-Gibson's return to Los Angeles 10 years after the riots to assess the conditions of and relationships between the multi-ethnic communities affected by the riots.

The riots began as a protest by some members of the Black community after the acquittal of three white police officers who were accused of using excessive force in the arrest of Rodney King, a black man. The riots were also a response to what many in the black community believed to be too lenient of sentence for a Korean American woman, Soon Ja Du, who shot and killed Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old black girl. The riots claimed the lives of 54 victims, injured an estimated 2,228 victims, and caused over one billion dollars worth of material and property damage.

Through interviews with Korean-American immigrants, Latino immigrants, black people and a handful of Caucasians, Kim-Gibson managed to reveal that for many of the victims of the riots life had not only failed to improve, but had actually become worse.

The film opened with an interview of a Korean-American woman named Jung Hai Lee. Lee's 17-year-old son, Eddie, died in the riots. Lee began the film with an amazing call for unity which helped give the film its title. When asked about a possible solution to racial discord, Lee responded with a metaphor for unity saying, "If you hold a fistful of wet sand it is one big lump and stays together, but if the sun dries it, it slips through your fingers."

Throughout the film the harsh reality of the situation in Los Angeles was made painfully clear. Kim-Gibson interviewed several black, Korean-American, and Latino business owners who had lost their businesses in the riots. The lucky few that were able to build took several years to do so, and for most the financial impact was so great that recovery became impossible.

In addition to interviews, the film featured news footage of the atrocities of the riots. This included large department stores being looted by hundreds of people and then set ablaze, innocent victims lying lifeless on concrete stained by blood, young black men being racially profiled and brutally beaten by Caucasian police officers, Korean-American small business owners being kicked out of their own stores then forced to watch as their life's work was destroyed before their eyes.

After the film, Kim-Gibson held a discussion for interested students. Participants asked about the inadequacy of the education systems in poor immigrant and minority communities, and other topics addressed in the film. Kim-Gibson passionately responded to all the questions and further expanded upon the views expressed in her film. In response to one student's question about what can be done to improve the conditions of the communities portrayed in the documentary, Kim-Gibson responded, "We should not ask what is wrong with us. There is not a god-d****d thing wrong with us! We should instead ask what are the basic flaws of the American system."

With Wet Sand, Kim-Gibson took her passion for film-making and explored the struggle of the multi-ethnic communities of Los Angeles, all while sending out a message to America that there's is a great deal wrong with our. Kim-Gibson emphasized that the poor, disenfranchised immigrant and minority populations will not improve their condition or achieve "the American dream" until people look beyond the color of each other's skin and band together to restructure our systems of government and education from their roots.