CORVALLIS Ore. - "Zoot Suit," a film chronicling the events leading to the 1943 Zoot Suit riots in Los Angeles, will be screened on Thursday, Nov. 10, at Oregon State University.
Free and open to the public, the R-rated 1981 production starts at 8 p.m. in the OSU Memorial Union Leadership Center.
Directed by Luis Valdez, the movie is a filmed play featuring actor Edward James Olmos. The play explores the August 1942 death of José Díaz, who died near a popular swimming hole along the Los Angeles River called Sleepy Lagoon.
Though Díaz might have been the victim of a hit-and-run accident, Henry Leyvas and a number of his associates were arrested and charged with his Diaz's murder. Within the next 10 days, Los Angeles police arrested dozens of people - most of them Hispanics - on a number of charges.
Despite little evidence, 12 defendants were eventually convicted of murder and five were convicted of assault. The controversy lasted well into the summer of 1943, when a group of sailors on shore leave in the city said they were attacked by a group of Mexican "pachucos," or gang members.
In response to this, a group of more than 200 uniformed sailors made their way to Hispanic neighborhoods in East Los Angeles and began attacking any zoot suiter they found. The zoot suit - a broad-shouldered knee-length jacket, with pleated pants, a wide-brim hat, and an optional watch chain - was seen by some as a sign of gang membership.
In October, 1944, nearly two years after the trials had ended, the U.S. District Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of Leyvas and his associates as a miscarriage of justice.
The incident led Valdez to write Zoot Suit, a musical play, which was later filmed for the 1981 film production.
Valdez will be on the OSU campus on Tuesday, Nov. 15, to present "21st Century Education: Accounting for the Past and the Future" at 7:30 p.m. in OSU's LaSells Stewart Center. Valdez's lecture is also free and open to the public.