A Love Song for Latasha (2020)
Director: Sophia Nahli Allison
There is something so inherently poetic about Sophia Nahli Allison’s Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Subject A Love Song for Latasha. Something that imbues every scene with a sense of ethereal resonance. Perhaps it’s the soft spoken voiceover of those who knew Latasha, or the eccentrically designed graphics that recreate moments or memories from a relatively distant past that still feels so close and raw to those describing them. Maybe it’s that the events described in this 19 minute documentary could very well be a tale from today, or yesterday, or the day before; that the struggle of racial injustice in the United States seems like an eternal one. In any case, it makes for remarkable watching; some of the best 19 minutes of cinema you’ll find anywhere this year.
15 year old Latasha Harlins was shot and killed in a South Central Los Angeles convenience store in March 1991. The store owner, who had threatened gun violence towards other children in the area previously, received a lenient sentence the judge described as “time served”: 5 years of probation, 400 hours of community service, a $500 restitution and the responsibility to cover the child’s funeral costs. It was an outrageous moment of injustice that is thought to be amongst the catalysts for the civil uprising of Los Angeles in 1992. A Love Song for Latasha dives beneath the controversy, beneath the corrupt lawmakers and systemic oppression, to try and find the truth of Latasha as a human being, and in doing so brings to life a child who has become a go-to statistic and example of racial injustice but is so rarely spoken of in public circles as being who she was.
Personal testimonies of Latasha’s short but influential and much-adored life on earth are the backbone of Allison’s documentary. Through her childhood best friend and a number of other close personal figures, we hear of how Latasha had lofty aspirations, was an intelligent young girl doing well at school. We learn how she was orphaned at a young age, took on the responsibility of her younger siblings and put all she had into pursuing a better life for herself and her family. One tale, describing how Latasha and her best friend Tybie O’Bard met, seems to sum her up best: Latasha scaring off a group of boys dunking Tybie under water in a public pool, then dragging Tybie out of the water and decreeing her a new friend.
It is perhaps appropriate given the title of the film, that A Love Song for Latasha feels like just that: a love song. Deep, painful, grief-stricken love, but a love nonetheless. Cinema that pays tribute, that embraces humanity, that celebrates an individual, whilst bringing into focus the inhumanity and division of wider contemporary issues. If A Love Song for Latasha was a song, it would be a siren for Black Lives Matter, a reminder of how our collective empathy and our willingness to understand one another is and will forever be much more important, righteous and true than the forces that look to divide us.
Latasha Harlins was but a child when she was shot in the back. A 15 year old girl with siblings of blood and of adoption. Her death is one of profound social and political significance, but it is her life and the light it brought to others (as only children can) that A Love Song for Latasha highlights. In doing so, it creatively and expressively pays tribute to Latasha Harlins’ life, and becomes simply unmissable as both a documentation of her being and an insight into the terrors that our culture still fights to this day.
A Love Song for Latasha is now available worldwide via Netflix.