RIOT is an independent documentary film by Kevin McLaughlin. The work chronicles the city of Newark, New Jersey, and the many ways it was affected by the civil disturbance that took place there in the summer of 1967. Today, it’s hard to believe that an event that few people remember or know anything about could have had such a huge impact on millions of people. That’s the story that this film attempts to tell. While the rioting killed 26 people, and certainly had a major affect on the families of those people, countless others were affected in many ways. Hundreds of family businesses were destroyed. Many thousands of people were displaced, and the white flight that was already underway was accelerated exponentially. That movement of people reverberated throughout the state, spurring development much farther out into the suburbs than it might have ever gone otherwise. The story can be considered a crystal ball for communities like Ferguson and Baltimore, where current-day conflicts threaten to thrust those cities into a similar downward spiral.
The violence of that summer also spurred other historic events, including the election of the first African-American mayor in any major Northeastern US city. It created a climate of distrust between the races that still lingers in the state today. And it crippled the city’s finances and reputation. To this day, When Newark is mentioned in the national media, it’s more often as a punch line than anything else.
For those familiar with the city of Newark, New Jersey and its people, it’s a well-known fact that the city has long been a hotbed of controversy and conflict. Various factions have battled over a multitude of issues for as long as anyone can remember. For this reason, it is extremely challenging to present a clear-cut, definitive accounting of any event in this locale. People will debate every detail of a story, and it is quite difficult to find a consensus on any issue surrounding particularly contentious events. At the heart of this film’s story is the most contentious event in the city’s long history: the 5 days of rioting that killed 26 people and left a scar on the city that lasts to this day, over a half-century later.
So rather than “choose sides” as some other filmmakers have done, the producers of Riot decided to let all sides have their say and let viewers decide what they believe. Those who see this film will hear the full range of opinions on a wide variety of topics, right down to one of the most basic schisms, the question of what to call the events of 1967; a riot, a revolution, a rebellion, or something else?
With narration by Emmy-winner Andre Braugher, and a piano score by Newark native Rahjta Ren, this film stands as a bold testament to a difficult time in Newark's history, and one that will soon be seen as required viewing for anyone seeking understanding of urban conflict, civil disobedience, and the evolution of race relations in America.