I’ll be with you.
When the subject of your documentary is the tragic death of a fifteen-year-old Black girl accused of stealing an orange juice while holding the two dollars she was about to use for the purchase, the decision to embrace poetic abstract over reenactment is an easy one to make. And that’s exactly what Sophia Nahli Allison does with her short A Love Song for Latasha. It might begin with the blue screen of a VCR complete with tracking lines as footage appears, but that footage isn’t actually of Latasha Harlins or her friends and family. Most of what we’re shown is instead populated by kids from today interacting like how she, her cousin Shinese, and her best friend Ty would back in the late-1980s. Allison is setting the stage.
She’s presenting the joy and promise children hold in South Central Los Angeles despite the dangers lurking as a result of the color of your skin. She’s highlighting the easy-going nature of best friends eating together or swimming like Tasha, Shinese, and Ty possessed three decades ago. That it plays against the words the latter two recount via memories imbues each sequence with a duality of meaning that inevitably reminds us how little has changed—both in that desire to live life with a smile and the uncertainty in knowing whether or not you’ll be able to do so tomorrow. Because knowing gun violence and racism exists regardless isn’t enough upon learning this particular death came at the hands of someone these kids knew to fear.
Latasha’s murder was a major spark for the 1992 LA riots and an indelible moment for young Black children everywhere, but to push in and showcase its impact on the two people closest to her only amplifies its power further. When the topic of that specific day arises, Allison shifts from pictorial representation to color fields and paint flickering over and over again as we envision the event ourselves through the narrators’ words. To hear these women speak about not knowing what terror was until then epitomizes the loss of innocence that no one this young should have to understand. And yet our country continues to ensure that young Black boys and girls do in order to survive. We force these kids to know their skin conjures hate.
For what? Two dollars? Are we so afraid that pulling a gun on a teenager because we presume trouble is enough to devalue a human life into pocket change? Or are we emboldened by the fact that those in power think that way too when the victim being dehumanized is a color society has been conditioned to fear? There are no excuses—especially not this time around when you hear Shinese and Ty talk about Tasha being a straight-A student with aspirations to attend law school. The repeat offender in this case was the person pulling the trigger and yet they walked free. Rather than treat Tasha as the statistic she strove to never become, remember these words and the beauty of what should have been.
courtesy of ShortsTV