administration, and the show we’re doing would have aired irrespective
of who was in the White House. I’ve wanted to tell the [true-life] story that
inspired Guerrilla for decades. A lot of the things that I talk about have been
issues, continue to be issues, and, very unfortunately, will be issues moving
forward—and need to be addressed, looked at, and dealt with.
I could not be more proud of the last eight years of [President Obama],
in terms of what he represented and what he tried to accomplish. But there
were still problems that were happening in our own community and the
wider country. It’s great that people now feel like they need to turn out. They
are energized and activated. But in some ways it’s unfortunate that it took
[Donald Trump’s election] for some people to feel like, Oh, we gotta go out
and do something. Because if the election had gone a different way, we still
should have been out on the street, advocating for change.
Let It Fall is your frst documentary. Why did you decide to approach the
Rodney King riots as nonfction? Eleven years ago, Spike Lee called me up
and said, “I want to do a story on the L.A. riots. You want to write it?” He set
me loose, and I wrote a script about the Rodney King beating and verdict
itself. I tried to bring in a variety of perspectives and individuals from across
Los Angeles. It was not a typical heroic narrative. It was about systems failing, and good regular people from all different backgrounds either rising
or sinking below the moment. The studio was happy with the script, but
they could not land on a price [and never moved forward].
This April is the 25th anniversary of the uprisings. When ABC News
learned that I had been working on [the topic], they asked if I’d be interested
in presenting it as a documentary. The more I’d learned about the uprisings, the less I wanted to fctionalize them. The ABC News division, which
produces documentaries, had the capacity to follow the backstory over a
decade, to hew more closely to reality, to be more observant. Now we have
[interviews with] people who felt the only expression they had left was to
pour into the streets.
In the past, you’ve been very critical of rioting in response to police violence, faulting what you call “Blacktivists” for inciting uprisings. Have
your views changed, given your exploration of the L. A. riots in Let It Fall
and the recent emergence of Black Lives Matter? Black Lives Matter, to me,
is very thoughtful, very reasoned.
It is not a single, emotive reaction
to one moment. It’s a sustained
movement of individuals who are
looking for long-term change. I
don’t have a problem when people
are upset and fed up and go out
in the streets and protest. I have a
problem when it’s our neighbors
who are hurt in our rage. I have a
problem when it’s this person over
here—who may look like that person I’m upset about but has nothing
to do with it—who is hurt in our
rage. Among the takeaways of Let
It Fall is that of the more than 50
deaths following the L.A. uprising,
the majority of them were black.
Is it exhausting to be the writer,
showrunner, creator, and director for simultaneous shows—
especially when you’re grappling
with issues of race and socioeconomic disparity? Very much so.
This is rare for anybody. But it’s defnitely rare for people of color—and
I don’t know when it’s going to end.
[So] you can get tired, but you can
never be tired. You can be emotionally bereft, but you cannot give up.
I don’t think that we can minimize
the value of what happens when we
normalize, through entertainment,
other cultures and orientations.
You look at the way people have
responded in the last year to bias
toward transgender individuals.
You know, fve years ago, three years
ago, that would not have happened.
You got your start in comedy.
What did you learn from it? I was
doing stand-up [in the early ’90s]
around the time of [the rise of]
Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle,
and those guys are fearless. I was
good—I wasn’t great. What armed
me more than anything was getting
to a place of thinking, I’m not worried about how people are going to
respond. [Today], people may love
[my work], they may hate it, they
may think whoever is behind it is
incompetent. But you develop a
self-confdence being in front of a
thousand people and knowing that
you can get to where you’re going.
sitcom writing for The
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,
Martin, and The John
Wrote the novel Stray
Dogs, which Oliver
Stone turned into the
1997 film U Turn, starring Sean Penn and
written by Ridley
Created the 2007 DC
comic book The American Way, featuring an
in an alternate America
of the 1960s; Ridley’s
second volume, set in
the 1970s, comes out
KEY TO LONGEVITY
“I’ve been able to do
the things that I do
for more than 20
years because my
work is individualized
and unique in its
what keeps bringing
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