Latasha Harlins was a 15-year-old living in Los Angeles and her death has been a footnote in documentaries and media coverage since it took place in 1991. Filmmaker Sophia Nahli Allison started working in 2016 to intentionally bring more attention to what Latasha did in her 15 years of life.
In her Oscar-nominated film A Love Song For Latasha, Allison highlights Latasha’s aspirations, and who she was as a friend, her life in Los Angeles, and more beyond her untimely killing.
Harlins was killed March 16, 1991 after a convenience store owner wrongfully accused the teen of stealing a juice worth $1.79.
Allison told The Huffington Post's Taryn Finley that being able to own and tell narratives was an important part of creating the film, given the complexities of Black girlhood. She also remarked that Latasha's birthdate had been listed incorrectly online for some time, which underscored the need for owning and telling stories of Black women and girls in particular.
“Just before the film came out on Netflix, her birthday was always listed incorrectly online,” Allison told the outlet. “The year and the date was always incorrect. So just what happens when Black women and Black girls are no longer able to be in control of their archive, of their narrative, and wanting to really interrogate that, and wanting to dismantle all the powers that have prevented us from having that need to speak,” she said.
Allison, a native of Los Angeles, worked with Netflix to get a mural made in Latasha’s honor on January 1 of this year, on what would’ve been Latasha’s 45th birthday.
To make A Love Song For Latasha, Allison wrote to two of Latasha’s best friends, Ty and Shinese on Facebook to see if they wanted to tell their friend’s story.
“I let them know I wanted to create a film that really reimagined her life and moved us away from her trauma, and I wanted the story and the narrative to come from their perspective, from their experience, and really have that needed healing process that we all go through together,” the filmmaker said. Allison added to her message that without their voices, she’d wouldn’t even do the film.
It took several months, but both Shinese and Ty agreed. The trio reportedly got close through the filmmaking process and navigated the task of telling Latasha’s life without much archival footage or photos. They set out to reimagine what a documentary could be through visual storytelling.
“[We were] wanting to return this idea of how Black folks always told stories, thinking about the Black arts movement and decolonizing this Western idea of storytelling and really embracing how Black women have always told stories, how Black have always hold space for one another,” Allison told HuffPost.
She said the project was a means of providing community healing. “There have been many Black women I’ve spoken to who told me until they saw the film they didn’t realize how much they carried Latasha’s death, how much they had to carry the visual of seeing Latasha killed,” Allison said. It was meaningful to Allison to create a “new archive for us to remember Latasha.”
The film originally debuted at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and is currently nominated for the Academy Award for Best Short Documentary. It’s available to stream on Netflix.
Photo Credit: Getty Images