Zoot Suit Riots

USA 2001. Dir Joseph Tovares.

Documentary. 60 min.

Tovares’s captivating documentary, part of the “American Experience” series on PBS, explores zoot suit culture through LA’s infamous “Sleepy Lagoon” murder (1942). The killing of a boy at a party triggered a ruthless police manhunt and the subsequent show trial resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of a group of young Mexican American “zoot suiters” that many—including high-profile figures such as Orson Welles—thought to be innocent. The sensational trial added to the growing anti-zoot suit and anti-Mexican feeling in LA. The baggy attire was condemned as unpatriotic, and those who wore it as ignorant of the war effort. This sentiment eventually led to street beatings and ritual strippings of boys as young as 14.