Latasha Harlins was 15 years old when she was killed by Soon Ja Du at Empire Liquor in South Central Los Angeles on March 16, 1991. This dreamlike, hybrid documentary reimagines a more nuanced narrative of Latasha’s life. We spoke to director Sophia Nahli Allison regarding the film.
A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA plays as part of the Shorts program at AFI DOCS at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD on Thursday, June 20 and at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington DC on Friday, June 21. Buy tickets to the screening here.
AFI: What led you to pursue working in documentary?
I am extremely passionate about reimagining the archives and excavating hidden truths. I do this by disrupting conventional documentary methods and using experimental elements of fiction and non-fiction to recontextualize the existence of black women. My passionate is excavating stories that are on the verge of erasure. I conjure ancestral memories in my art and personal life and am interested in the spiritual essence of storytelling. The heartbeat. I constantly search for what hasn’t been done yet. I believe in breaking rules and challenging conventional methods of documenting as a way to dismantle systems of oppression within storytelling and building an aesthetic that is authentic to the story.
AFI: How did you become interested in Latasha’s story? What drew you to it?
As a native of South-Central Los Angeles, I was haunted by the reality that the story of Latasha Harlins primarily exists within the context of her death. Too often stories of black women and girls focus solely on their trauma and our existence is erased, misplaced or discarded. A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA reimagines the function of archives and challenges conventional preservation methods, allowing Latasha to live in her fullness. A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA is a spiritual and physical conversation of dreams, memories and legacy. Through the process of archiving what no longer exists, we are creating a new framework that examines the erasure of black women’s stories. This type of intentionality challenges who is in charge of our narrative and historical records, while also providing a context beyond headlines of trauma and negative stereotypes.
AFI: How did you pursue turning Latasha’s story into a film?
I reached out to Ty and Shinese [Latasha’s best friend and cousin respectively] on Facebook. I shared with them the story I wanted to make about Latasha and waited for their permission. The film took two years to make.
AFI: What was a particular challenge you underwent in making the film?
Creating a documentary that has no archival footage was the biggest challenge, but also the most rewarding and spiritually-driven element.
AFI: What do you hope viewers to learn from you sharing your film with them?
This film is for the black women and girls who have felt invisible or erased. This is for the everyday black girl. When people watch this film, they connect with a young person who had goals and aspirations. They see themselves, friends and family members. Latasha could have been any of us, and this film celebrates and archives Latasha through intimate memories shared by her cousin and best friend.
AFI: Why is Washington DC a fitting spot to screen A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA?
DC has such rich African American history. And just as South-Central Los Angeles is currently being gentrified, threatening the erasure of its history, DC is also experiencing a deep-rooted gentrification. We are connected beyond our cities, through the remembrance of our stories and resilience. I hope people in DC see the importance of Latasha’s story, and it helps them reflect upon their own memories and histories.
AFI: Why do you think documentary films are so vital today?
To me, as a black queer woman, documentary filmmaking allows us to reclaim, reimagine and excavate stories of our fullness and truth. Through documentary we can conjure ancestral memories and wisdom that was once hidden.