29 Days Of Black History – Day 18: Heat Wave

Release Date:  8/13/1990 (TV Movie)
Genre:   Drama
Rating:   R
Director:  Kevin Hooks
Studio(s):   Avnet/Kerner Productions, Propaganda Films, TNT, Turner Home Entertainment
Running Time:  100 mins.

Cast:  Blair Underwood (Robert Richardson), Cicely Tyson (Ruthana Richardson), James Earl Jones (Junius Johnson), Margaret Avery (Roxie Turpin), David Strathairn (Bill Thomas), Glenn Plummer (J.T. Turpin), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Clifford Turpin), Adam Arkin (Art Berman).

Story:   Heat Wave is a television movie about the 1965 riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles. It recreates the experiences of Bob Richardson, a young Los Angeles Times messenger who covered the riots and subsequently became the paper’s first African-American reporter.

As a teen, Richardson (Blair Underwood) comes from the South to Los Angeles with his best friend J.T.  (Glenn Plummer) and his parents (Vondie Curtis-Hall and Margaret Avery) to stay at the home of his grandmother (Cicely Tyson), who works as a housekeeper in Beverly Hills.  But they soon learn that Los Angeles is not a place of racial harmony as they had hoped, but rather they face the same sort of discrimination and oppression they had known at home.  They are hassled by cops and chased by white gangs. Unable to find work as a construction foreman, his former profession, Curtis-Hall settles for work as a janitor and salves his wounded pride with liquor.  Similarly, after Plummer`s ambition to become an airline pilot is thwarted by a school counselor, he winds up in a car wash with a half-pint in his pocket.  Underwood`s character, enlists in the Army, goes to college and gets a job as a messenger with the Los Angeles Times.

When the riot erupts, precipitated by a hassle between a white cop and two black men over a traffic violation, Richardson is sent to report from the scene, because, we are told, white reporters are being attacked. He does his job, but his stories, which first reflect the looting and arson, infuriate some of the neighbors.

When the riot is finally quelled, with the help of 14,500 National Guardsmen, the toll is substantial: 35 dead, 1,200 injured, 4,000 arrested, $200 million in damage and 600 buildings burned or looted.

The Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the riots and the man on whom the Richardson character was based became the paper`s first black reporter trainee.  Other sources indicate that the real-life Richardson’s career reportedly went from the Times to small radio stations to homelessness.  Source:  Wikipedia; Chicagotribune.com; Daarac.org; TCM.

Trailer: