Read Reading Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 –

Twilight is a stunning work of documentary theater that explores the devastating human impact of the five days of riots following the Rodney King verdict From nine months of interviews with than two hundred people, Smith has chosen the voices that best reflect the diversity and tension of a city in turmoil: a disabled Korean man, a white male Hollywood talent agent, a Panamanian immigrant mother, a teenage black gang member, a macho MexicanAmerican artist, Rodney King's aunt, beaten truck driver Reginald Denny, former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates, and other witnesses, participants, and victims A work that goes directly to the heart of the issues of race and class, Twilight ruthlessly probes the language and the lives of its subjects, offering stark insight into the complex and pressing social, economic, and political issues that fueled the flames in the wake of the Rodney King verdict and ignited a conversation about policing and race that continues today

10 thoughts on “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

  1. Sadie Hillier Sadie Hillier says:

    I genuinely wish I could make this required reading for ... everyone. Everyone in America at least, especially fellow white people who cannot feel the pain and the tension that was prevalent in 1965, that was prevalent in 1992, that is still prevalent today in 2016. I finished reading this book around the same time news broke that a police officer had shot Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man whose car was having trouble. It's 2016 and somehow the fact that black people should not be murdered by police is still seen as a political opinion.

    In Twilight, the people Anna interviews are repeatedly astounded by the fact that their situation is so similar to the Watts Riots nearly 3 decades before. Nearly 3 decades later, I am astounded that so little has changed. The stories in this book are raw and real, and so so important.

  2. Christine Christine says:

    If you lived though the King beating and its aftermath, including the Riots. You really need to read this. Smith conducted interviews with various people, and this is the stage production script of those interviews.

  3. Sam Sam says:

    The Los Angeles riots were an eye opening account of the racial and socioeconomic tensions that were occurring within the citizens of L.A. It was a mixture of different factors for a long time that was adding strain to already fragile tensions. After the verdict was announced for the Simi Valley trial all these tensions that people were internalizing finally exploded. Anna Deavere Smith’s play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 does a great job at giving a verbatim account of many individuals own opinions and experiences before, during, and after the Los Angeles riots.

    Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 gives readers an insight into people’s individual feelings and reactions towards the Los Angeles riots. Reading each individual monologue lends itself to a deeper understanding of how there was this kind of me vs. them mentality between minority groups, the wealthy, the poor, etc. This play shows the psychology of people and how they’re all struggling to make sense of the actions that happened during the Los Angeles riots. For most people in this book and to readers as well, the Los Angeles riots were a one of kind experience that truly showed or exposed them to the violent nature of humanity that many never experienced or even observed before. It’s interesting to see the remaining anger, depression, and shock that people held onto even after the riots occurred. Those feelings and this book lends itself to the deeper narrative of California literature that describe the struggles that many minority groups and people of a lower economic standing continually face. This book is not the only one in Californian literature that describes and portrays those struggles however it’s an important one that shouldn’t be ignored and should be examined closely because of how diverse these people are. This book leaves readers with the understanding of how people felt when the riots occurred and how they most likely still carry those feelings today. The book also makes a lot of points of how media can often skew images and reports and often worsen situations. In the book, Paula Weinstein states that she thought it was, a media fest of making white people scared of the African-American community (Smith, 211). There are several other accounts that make references towards the media feeling that they actually over exaggerated tensions. It's a very interesting perspective on how the media can influence people's feelings and actions.

    This book has many strengths however I believe the biggest strength is how each monologue is a verbatim account of the interviews that Anna Deavere Smith conducted. Using the interviewee’s individual verbatim experiences of the Los Angeles riots gives the book and play this sense of realism that many news articles on the riots wouldn’t have been able to execute. Not only does it make itself seem more real, but you also feel more connected to the person speaking. Since Smith doesn’t remove all of the stutters and “um’s” that people commonly do as they speak you can’t help but feel more drawn to the scene and pay more attention to the words that they’re saying. Smith seems to perfectly draw in the readers to feel that they’re also sitting in on this interview by putting the effort into describing the setting, people, and actions that they’re doing before the start of the interview. For example, before getting into the monologues of the Park family she gives a long explanation of the setting and people around her, a very pleasant, sunny high-ceilinged new modern home in Fullerton...The feel of the place is airy but there is a lot of furniture... Mr. Park speaks in the rhythm of a person who has full authority and ease, and a person who has all of the facts exactly straight (Smith, 142). Again, it leads to this sense of realism that readers wouldn’t have gotten from news articles. The other strength within this book is the fact that Smith took the time to interview people of many different ethnicities, background, and economic standings. The diversity of the people she interviewed helps readers have an even bigger understanding how many Los Angeles residents felt when these riots occurred.

    Although this book has many strengths, there is also a major weakness that needs to be addressed. After reading Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 it’s apparent that while Smith took the time to conduct a wide diverse set of interviews, she seemed to miss a crucial account of the Los Angeles riots from the experiences that many officers of the Los Angeles Police Department faced. Although she did conduct an interview with former chief Daryl Gates his experience of the Los Angeles riots would have been completely different than an officer’s account of the riots. She also managed to conduct an interview with a firefighter yet completely missed this one side that most likely had plenty to say about the Los Angeles riots. There were many monologues that discussed the law enforcement that were there during those riots, yet never gave an officer that was there the chance to describe their understanding or feelings of the during and after the riots. For example, Stanley K. Sheinbaum stated at the same time, I had been on this kick, as I told you before, of... of fighting for what's right for the cops, because they haven't gotten what they should. I mean this city has abused both sides. The city has abused cops. Don't ever forget that (Smith, 15). This is such an important statement that this former police commissioner made that to not include an officer's perspective after his monologue really lends a disservice to this book/play. Even getting an interview from one of the members of the military that were sent out to Los Angeles during the riots would have been an interesting addition to this play. An officer’s or national guardsman’s verbatim account of their experiences would have been crucial to the play and to the readers understanding of what occurred during the riots.

    Despite those weaknesses, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is a very interesting and crucial book/play that helps people understand the importance and tensions between people in Los Angeles during that time. This book will help those who were not born during the time of the riots gain a deeper understanding of the problems and feelings that contributed to the Los Angeles riots. These readers and those who were born during the time of the riots will both gain a sense of understanding and leave with a new side to the riots that they normally would’ve never experienced. This book/play will be an important addition to California literature that describe the racial tensions and socioeconomic problems that many minority groups and people of low economic standing face in this state.

  4. Emma Getz Emma Getz says:

    Extremely fascinating analysis of the 1992 Rodney King riots in LA using real quotes from interviews and court hearings. This piece touches on so many racial nuances and perspectives of the whole situation. It's amazing how relevant this play is still in our historical moment, and there are so many parallels to modern current events. I would recommend this play to anyone, but especially those who are unfamiliar with Rodney King and the 1992 riots. Smith is truly a pioneer of documentary theatre, a genre that I hope grows in popularity.

  5. Carol B. Carol B. says:

    This book is, essentially, a re-ordered transcript of Anna Deavere Smith's act. These pages include more of the interviews, and each interview is presented as a kind of lyric. While I appreciated that choice (to present the interviews as poetry), the transcripts don't have anywhere near the same impact as watching the interviewees being acted out. The documentary is particularly effective as a means for discussing race because of Smith's embodiment of various people...but this book seems most effective as a means for Smith to further capitalize off of her project's success.

  6. BrookeAshley BrookeAshley says:

    Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is a play written by Anna Deavere Smith telling the thoughts and feelings of people who resided in Los Angeles during the 1992 riots. Sparking the tension was the unjustified beating of Rodney King by four white cops which later led to an acquittal of all four policemen. The verdict is essentially what started the fire blazing riots that killed 53 people and caused over one billion dollars in property damage. The L.A. riots are considered the deadliest riots in the history of the United States having occurred for a total of six days. Twilight explores those who observed, were part of, or affected by the riots, telling true stories laced with emotion, injustice, and loss.

    Having interviewed 300 people in the Los Angeles, California area, Smith incorporates in her play multiple perspectives on the riots, delving deep into the underlying problem of division and racism L.A. has struggled with for years. She grasps each character perfectly with tone, characterization, and imagery. Each monologue is told with undeniable passion and, together, express an overall need for change in the city of Los Angeles and, quite possibly, in the entirety of the United States.

    Anna Deavere Smith not only wrote Twilight but also acted it out as a solo actor. Available on, viewers can see Smith bring to life each character she so carefully interviewed and represented in her work. The play itself is considered California Literature due to the sense of community, or lack thereof, throughout the text. It is a genre all its own, Los Angeles a city all its own that is so clearly relayed in Smith’s work. The L.A. feeling comes across the pages in waves, from the exploration of the multicultural L.A. to the unique geographic of Los Angeles. Smith does a fantastic job capturing the mood of the City of Angels not only during the 1992 riots but also in general over the span of time.

    One example of how well Smith grasps the characters so well with tone is an interview with Cornel West, a scholar, who has a very particular way of speaking that comes across expertly in his monologue:
    Uh, but! ass, you know, ass the bess we can do, ass the bess anybody can do at any moment of human history is simply hold up the bess of what you see in the pass, no guarantee whatsoever that, one, it will ever triumph, or, two, that it will ever gain a mass following. (46)
    Cornel West’s voice just leaps off the page throughout his monologue but especially here because of the words “ass”, “bess”, and the italicization of certain parts of the quote, enunciating his speech patterns very well.

    At the beginning of each monologue, Smith gives a description of her interviewees, putting her skill at characterization to work. One example is her description of The Park Family whose member, Walter Park, was severely affected by the L.A. riots. The description is very long but gives a strong idea of the type of family the Parks are. Parts of it read:
    A very pleasant, sunny, high-ceilinged new modern home in Fullerton. There is a winding staircase that comes into a hallway. The furnishings are replicas of Louis XIV. Walter Park, who has had a gunshot through the eye, has a scar on the left side of his face […] Mr. Park speaks in the rhythm of a person who has full authority and ease, and a person who has all of the facts exactly straight. When he begins talking, his wife and son shake their heads to let me know that he doesn’t know the answer to the question. (142)
    Most of Smith’s characterizations prior to each monologue and even sometimes throughout monologues are just as descriptive as the one given here. They make the characters more appealing.
    Her use of imagery goes hand-in-hand with the characterization as seen above with the staircase and Mr. Park’s physical appearance. Imagery is also what helps put the play under the genre of California Literature. For instance, one character walks Smith through their drive from one location to the next detailing street names that are very familiar to Los Angeles residents (134). Another character goes a bit deeper with their description of L.A., a bit more abstract, that gives a certain sense of community. Talking about how residents of Los Angeles don’t travel much, the interviewee says “It’s as if it is a different country, and that’s the view – and that’s the horror of Los Angeles. So it was an extraordinary time” (209).

    Twilight is really a fantastic read all around but as with any written work, it has weaknesses. For one, if being read, the play is relatively crude/vulgar. Profane words are common because of the type of people Smith interviews. It is understandable considering that some of the characters are ex-gang members or just simply people who tend to curse a lot. Smith believes in staying true to her characters so leaving the profanity in is tolerable if looking at the play from a writer’s point of view or an artist’s perspective. If one does have any issue with curse words, I would recommend watching the play over reading it because PBS censors it. Another weakness Twilight has is the organization of the interviews. There is kind of one but not really. It seems to string along from perspective to perspective without much of a reason behind why one interviewee is being put before or after the other interviewee. It is a weakness that can be well overlooked but is there anyways. Though it may be Smith’s intention not to have an obvious order to her placement of monologues.

    Overall, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is an excellent read. The information on the riots in L.A. is interesting and keeps the reader engaged. The way each monologue is told makes the play appealing and true to character. Smith makes it easy to envision each person in their environment as well as empathize with them. The feeling of Los Angeles and community comes across very strong as well especially for those who live in the surrounding areas or even just in California itself. Once I got to the end of the work, I started formulating my own opinions on race and diversity. The play made me think harder about the issues at hand in every state in America but really made me give thought into what kind of city Los Angeles is. Maybe that is Smith’s purpose, to think about our multicultural country and me, my multicultural city. To make her readers aware of others and their differing perspectives. Maybe Smith wants her readers to broaden their minds in regards to peace and equality by helping us look through another person’s eyes. If so, Smith does effectively.

  7. Selena Selena says:

    I pulled this book out of my stack of books that I had bought but never read (but did write papers on?) for an honors seminar class while I waited for all the trending books on racism that I rushed to purchase to arrive in the mail. This was a fairly quick read about the LA riots and was in a unique style - a collection of short interviews meant to be performed as a play. Although I sometimes struggled with that style it also allowed for so much more emotion and such a wide range of viewpoints and characters since each interview was fairly short.

    I’m always amazed at how little I know about history and how frequently history repeats itself. Some of the interviews referenced the Watts riots of the 60s in a way of “I can’t believe this is still happening” and I couldn’t help thinking the exact same thing while experiencing global protests here 28 years later. The parallels were honestly alarming and frustrating and some of these interviews could very well have been talking about the stories of police brutality that are being highlighted right now.

    I also found the storylines highlighting the tensions between the Korean and Black LA communities interesting, although that was a small portion of this book. I’m reminded once again how complex race relations are in America. Some of these interviews paralleled social media posts I’m seeing right now calling to Asian Americans to support BLM.

    I know I have a lot more research to do both on race in general and specifically on the LA riots as the book focused more on the emotions surrounding these events than the details of the events themselves. Overall I would recommend this book especially for those like myself who are trying to commit to reading more books on racism and more Black/POC stories both now while these topics are trending and for the many years following until we no doubt repeat these events again.

  8. Jeff Winger Jeff Winger says:

    Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is a work that explores the events surrounding the Rodney King trial and following LA Riots. Smith is a playwright who tries to capture the different voices in the community of Los Angeles. Twilight is a culmination of interviews that Smith had with key players of the events (those who were directly influenced). These interviews serve as the foundation for the dialogue that ends up creating this one person performance play. Each chapter of the play is a performance of the dialogue of what each interviewee said.

    This book’s primary function is to serve as a call to improve race relations and step across such racial boundaries. It has been assigned in ethnic studies and literature classes because of the content of including different racial voices. The main argument of the book surrounds the idea that people should understand the viewpoints of the other races to improve relations among races. While Twilight brings in voices from different viewpoints, there is still an overwhelming slant favoring one race over another the ends up hurting the reader’s perception of racial harmony.

    The book is broken into different sections mainly in chronological order showing cause and effect. It starts out with a Mexican man being treated with inferiority throughout his life as he was called names in his youth and later beaten by white police officers. The following section focuses on established racial tensions under the topics of gangs along with the police versus the citizens of color. The next section of the book highlights the Rodney King beating and proceeding trial. It gives the perspectives of a former police officer, a witness to the beating, a white juror from the trial, and the district attorney. The next portion talks about the riots itself. There are interviews from multiple angles such as the Korean and black conflict, first responders, and leaders from the community and different organizations. The final sections discuss the effects of the riots, the ideologies, and how racial interactions can improve.

    Now since this book has the setting of California, we can talk about it in the special genre that is California literature. When we think about California literature, we think of things such as harmony, peace, nature, diversity, along with rich and poor in regards to the state itself in which it reflects the literature. The goal of California literature should be to positively promote the actual unity among the people and the different regional cultures of the state. California is thought of as the melting pot of cultures due to its diversity. Due to this thought, there is an inherent idea that people of different race and culture should get along well. Unfortunately, this book seems to tear into diversity and highlight the negativities of a diverse culture. That is to say it promotes that one race is superior to the other, whether it is white over black or black over white. Consider this from an ex-gang member, “Only thing we’re expressing through the Rodney King [beating]…it shows how a black person gets treated in his community. And it was once brought to the light…they handled it like a soap opera” (Smith 100). The perspective here is that people of one race get overpowered by another and then that race that overpowers “celebrates” that win by brushing things off. Some people may say that the officer was doing their job within their parameters and there was no brutality through overpowering the other. From this, attacking the officers would cause the same uprising. Since the police officers that were discussed were white, the argument from that perspective doesn’t hold much weight in the eyes of the non-white. “Now if that was an officer down there gettin’ beat…Just imagine how many people woulda been out there clappin…” (Smith 101). It simply is a game of which group is superior. That is what the readers get out of reading that. Then again, if we don’t talk about the unequal treatment among people we would lose the authenticity of the narrative since certain topics would be avoided. Sometimes people have to understand the historical context from the past before recognizing and making the change towards unity and that is what Smith’s intent was and she does a good job from that angle.

    Overall after reading all the chapters from the viewpoints of the different people, there is still one group being favored over the other. Blacks are portrayed as the victim and whites are portrayed as the enforcers, everyone else (other minorities) are in between. Through the victimization of the black people, readers are forced to feel bad for them from the onset. Although the book brings in the perspectives from the other side of the equation like white police employees and government employees, it does not overcome the problems that the blacks faced. The book plays with the emotions of the reader just like how the events surrounding the riots were ignited by the emotions of the affected. People may think that such victimization brings compassion towards everyone and promotes the want for equality. Instead, it fuels even more hatred for each side towards each other because one side will always think victimization is unfair and that those people would need a safe-space. Unfortunately, this goes against the spirit of California literature and therefore this book is not a good representative of California literature based on that idea. But it is a good representative book on California’s historical past due to the authenticity.

  9. Shelby (Grace with Books) Shelby (Grace with Books) says:

    This was such an interesting look at racial conflicts in 1992. I love the format that Anna Deavere Smith decided to use, with the different segments/snippets of people surround the event getting interviewed. It reminded me a lot of the Laramie Project. I do think this is a play that should be taught to more students because it has so much to say about prejudice and hatred. The world is a messed up place, but by reading and understanding different perspectives, we are closer to peace.

  10. Meg Petersen Meg Petersen says:

    This makes an excellent companion to the Netflix movie LA92.