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With the Black Lives Matter movement receiving renewed attention this year, older cases of racial injustice are getting a second look. That includes the tragic case of 15-year-old murder victim Latasha Harlins, whose life is celebrated in the 20-minute documentary A Love Song for Latasha.
Latasha Harlins was a 15-year-old girl from South Central Los Angeles with dreams of growing up to be an attorney and starting a business to help children in her neighborhood. She was killed on the morning of March 16, 1991 after being shot in the back of the head by convenience store owner Soon Ja Du, who accused Harlins of trying to steal a $1.79 bottle of orange juice.
Witnesses of Harlin's murder, as well as security camera footage, contradicted Du's account of what happened, according to the doc. Harlin did not appear to make any attempt to steal the orange juice, and had approached the counter with two dollars in her hand to pay for it when she was attacked by Du. Du was convicted of manslaughter but received no jail time, and her light sentence was a major contributing factor in the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the doc reports.
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The film is the brainchild of director and L.A. native Sophia Nahli Allison, who told Esquire, "I wanted to rebuild this history and this archive for Latasha, because there are a lot of L.A. natives that still don’t really know who she is." To do so, she enlisted Harlins' cousin Shinese Harlins and best friend Tybie O’Bard, who narrate the film with their memories of Latasha.
Though the film does discuss Harlins' death, A Love Song for Latasha is mostly about her life. The film talks about how she stood up for her family and for the weak, how she loved basketball and studied hard, and how she enjoyed going to a local burger joint and playing "Stand By Me" on the jukebox. It's a heartbreaking portrait of a beautiful soul, painted by those who loved her.