Kings

Millie Dunbar (Halle Berry) is the big-hearted, hard-working foster mother of many, many children. They’re crammed in to her apartment, bunk beds stacked on bunk beds, but they are safe and happy and loved. Except of course when Obie (Daniel Craig), the cantankerous upstairs neighbour, is harassing them, yelling at them to shut the hell up. Other than that, it may be a struggle, but it’s home.

Unfortunately, home, in south central Los Angeles, is about to get shaken up. It’s just days before the Rodney King verdict will be delivered. Things are about to blow up.

Like Gook, Kings looks at this contentious, violent time by getting intimate with one of the every day people affected by it. And I don’t just mean affected by the riots directly, MV5BZWVkOTZkYzktYTVkZS00M2MyLThkN2EtYjBiZjkzYzc2YWFmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ1MTYzNzY@._V1_though Millie’s family certainly will be. In Kings, we see the trial on the tiny, fuzzy TV sets in every living room. People are living and breathing it. Millie is deeply moved by the updates on the news, and Halle Berry’s excellent work reaches out to touch us in the audience. Millie is raising multiple black boys in a neighourhood patrolled by white cops looking for any excuse (or no excuse) to take out their disgust with the trial on anyone whose skin fits the profile. For her, it’s real, and the consequences are terrifying. Halle Berry hasn’t had roles really worthy of her lately, but this is a good one to sink into.

Of course, things really get moving after the verdict is read. Millie’s kids are strewn all over a city going down in flames, and she is not the type to sit on her couch and hope they come home safely. Her rescue mission will be aided and abetted by Obie.

This movie isn’t about the riots, but about an unconventional family caught up in them. I am not old enough to have my own memories of this time, but of course I haven’t failed to absorb all kinds of details and impressions over the years. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever really felt it, or understood the extent of what it must have been like for a black person in L.A. (and elsewhere in the country, I imagine) at the time, the disbelief that this verdict could be returned, and the utter fear, the utter terror for one’s safety, and for that of every kid in the community. What a brutal reminder, as if one was needed, that their lives are not equally valued in their own country, to their fellow countrymen. Berry’s panic, and the tears that come so easily to her eyes, tell me this.

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8 thoughts on “Kings

  1. selizabryangmailcom

    I think people get desensitized to this topic because it’s been around for so long and has spiked in the past several years with awareness of common police procedure to gun down unarmed men (and women). I’m not really sure how dragging the Rodney King verdict up from the depths will really add anything to the narrative, but centering around the point of view of Millie and her foster kids is at least an interesting perspective.

    The fact remains that the circumstances surrounding the founding, expansion and building of America are problematic at the least and criminal at the worst, and we’re simply living in the endless wake of that terrible tsunami. Since my husband and I have in the past been heading to an event, dressed to the nines, holding hands and laughing together and STILL had women grip their purses and hold them tightly as we pass, I think I qualify to have this opinion. And thanks to Jay for expressing her views on the movie and the subject in such a heartfelt manner.

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  2. Wendell W Ottley

    I’ve never been to L.A., but I was fully cognizant of that entire situation. And, being black, I was deeply affected by it. Back then, it gave me, personally, a hopelessness. All these years later, after raising my own son, that hopelessness combines with helplessness because I know I can’t be everywhere he is to shield him.

    On a lighter note, I hadn’t heard of this movie, but I definitely want to see it.

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  3. Liz A.

    I was supposed to work that night. My mother had a conniption when it seemed like I was going to work. They ended up closing the store that night because no one wanted to go out. I was in Orange County, so not where it was happening, but close enough that everyone just hunkered down for the night and went nowhere.

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