The 2005 documentary Rize, directed by David LaChapelle, tells the story of two dance movements born in South Central LA in the 1990s: clowning and krumping. The star of Rize, Tom Johnson, who goes by Tommy the Clown, invented clowning. Tommy grew up in Watts and for much of his youth he followed the stereotypical South Central lifestyle and became a drug dealer. He reports “luckily” being thrown in jail as opposed to the almost inevitable fate of being shot dead in the wrong neighborhood. He was released from jail in ’92, right before the riots in South Central following the Rodney King verdict. The violence of 1992 was a clear indication of the defeat and oppression that the people of South LA were still feeling. Fresh out of jail in 1992, Tommy decided that he wanted to do something to lift up his community. He got his opportunity when he was asked to perform as the clown at a little girl’s birthday party. Seeing the joy that his performance brought to children, he started dancing on the streets dressed in his clown suit and performing for birthday parties. Soon he had a following of kids that would dance with him on the streets, giving birth to the dance style known as clowning, which eventually evolved into a more aggressive style known as krumping.
The neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles are plagued by gangs, drugs, and violence, so much so that joining a gang is sometimes the only option for the kids growing up there. Rize tells the story of young people who have used dance as a way out. Instead of having gang wars, they have dance competitions. Some of the kids in the film are committed Christians, who likewise use dance to express their emotions. This film is not appropriate for children. Watch the trailer here: