I can confirm Vulture’s break that Fast & Furious franchise helmer Justin Lin has come aboard to direct L.A. Riots for Universal, with Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer producing. The project chronicles the frightening and destructive riot in 1992 over six days in Los Angeles that is still an awful memory for those who went through it. Violence, looting and mayhem escalated after the acquittal of four Los Angeles cops for the taped beating they dropped on Rodney King.
The project hatched with Spike Lee after he directed the hit Inside Man for Universal and Imagine and Lee seemed a natural to bring edge and thoughtfulness to this incendiary material the way he did with Do The Right Thing and his HBO documentary on Hurricane Katrina. I recall him telling me he showed Bob Daly and Terry Semel his 4-hour first cut of Malcolm X on the Warner Bros lot, and the riots broke out just as the film got started. The execs kept getting updates on the escalating destruction, adding a surreal atmosphere to Lee’s film. When it was completed, the execs raced for their home while Lee dashed to the airport to get out of L.A. and back to Brooklyn. But Lee and Universal parted company because Lee felt the studio was unwilling to give him a budget large enough to do the John Ridley script justice.
Lin might not have Lee’s street cred for this kind of film, but his success with The Fast And The Furious franchise has given him chips at that studio that Lee just didn’t have. The filmmaker also is looking for a chance to remind Hollywood he’s good for more than fast cars. Lin started his career directing and producing documentaries and festival films, before The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious put him on the A-list. After his edgy film Better Luck Tomorrow debuted at Sundance, it was that film that started a stampede of agencies to sign him. And his Taiwanese roots will lend a sensibility to the clash between African Americans and Asians whose stores bore the brunt of the looting and destruction during the riots. He’s repped by CAA.