Netflix to debut heartbreaking doc ‘A Love Song for Latasha’

theGrio spoke to filmmaker Sophia Nahli Allison exclusively about the sobering project

A Love Song for Latasha

Less than two weeks after the world watched Rodney King get beaten by Los Angeles police officers ,15-year-old Latasha Harlins was gunned down at a convenience store in South Central on March 16, 1991. By now, many have forgotten that her tragic death had a lot to do with the riots that ignited Los Angeles the following year.

The teen was shot in the back of the head by the store’s owner, Soon Ja Du, a 51-year-old Korean woman who suspected Latasha was trying to steal a bottle of orange juice that cost a mere $1.79. Security footage later confirmed that Latasha had money in her hand and intended to pay for the beverage and Du was convicted of voluntary man slaughter. 

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Even though the jury recommended a 16-year prison stint, she was sentenced to time served, five years probation, 400 hours of community service and required to pay for funeral expenses and $500 restitution. The shooting, light sentence, and failed appeal were factors that served as a catalyst for the riots that erupted in Los Angeles in 1992. 

Now, nearly 30 years after her death, first-time filmmaker Sophia Nahli Allison revisits the tragedy with her film, A Love Song For Latasha. In it, she showcases what the life of Harlins could have been. 

theGrio caught up with the film’s director to find out how she pieced together this beautiful and brutal project that seems more relevant today than ever. 

“As an LA native, I’m really interested in what it means to interrogate and conjure and excavate stories of the community and stories of Black women and Black girls,” Allison told theGrio exclusively. “Being a young girl during the riots, Latasha wasn’t a name I often heard. It was always Rodney King. It’s still a story people don’t talk about and her name is often forgotten. She played such an important and devastating role in that shift that happened in South Central and I wanted to see her story live in its fullness.”

Tupac Shakiur immortalized Latasha’s story in several of his hits, including “Keep Ya Head Up,” which he dedicated to the slain teen. He referenced her in other tracks like “Something 2 Die 4”, “Thugz Mansion”, and “I Wonder if Heaven Got a Ghetto,” and Ice Cube included a song about her on his album, Death Certificate, entitled ”Black Korea.” Still, when it comes to the impact and legacy of her death, she’s often overlooked.

“Latasha could have been a family member, or one of my friends. Latasha could have been me,” said Allison. “I wanted to make sure this archive, this story, and this memory existed for Latasha and that there was this evidence of her outside of just the trauma. Her story needed to exist beyond what we have seen.”

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The 15-minute film gives new meaning to the notion of “short and sweet” and in it, Allison manages to paint a picture of a life not lived.  A Love Song for Latasha is a mesmerizing piece of work that takes an unconventional route to storytelling.  

“I come from a documentary and photojournalism background so I always wanted to explore the story through the documentary lens, but I realized the challenge would be that there’s not that much surviving footage or images of Latasha,” the filmmaker continues. “I was really interested in what it would look like to reimagine the story when there is no tangible evidence that corroborates everything.”

“I began reading a lot of Saidiya Hartman and Alice Walker and Hartman’s piece, Venus in Two Acts, really inspired the process for me of ‘How do we re-engage with archives that don’t have the full picture?’ I felt there needed to be a new blueprint for how Black folks, especially Black women, tell their stories when so much of their archive has been erased, and hasn’t been properly preserved,” she adds.

“What does it mean to reclaim our history when so much of it has not existed fully for us to engage with and how do we bring it back to life? It’s almost like looking at this like a rebirth and a conjuring in that sense.”

A Love Story for Latasha will debut on Netflix soon. 

Check out the trailer: 

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