What is it with film crews working in our downtown and East LA communities lately? I live in Boyle Heights where there have been film notices taped outside my building and late night filming multiple times this past month. On Thursday night, while I was helping a woman spread the word on Twitter regarding a security guard who harassed her on a downtown location for Hand of God, I came across this tweet from Film Crew L.A., a film crew union:
Now, full disclosure, I know many people at Eastside Café, an autonomous, progressive community space in El Sereno, which is very committed and invested in the community, offering classes, workshops and socially conscious events. It’s where one of my favorite East LA bands, Las Cafeteras, got their start (and so named after the center) and I was last there on May 14th for a Free West Papua event. Since that time, I hadn’t known about this sign nor the movie, Low Rider, being filmed in the area. I forwarded the tweet to Eastside Café’s Facebook page, which quickly replied that they would write a response to this. I then tweeted some East LA media and community members for their thoughts:
While waiting for responses, I started researching the Low Rider film. The IMDB describes the film as “A look at the lives of enthusiasts of the re-emerging low-riding culture in Southern California’s Latino communities.” Hey, awesome…a big Hollywood studio Universal Pictures actually showing some interest in our Latino communities with a Latina, Eva Longoria, in a leading role…the glamorous star had to fight for the role of an “inner-city Latina”. Hey, at least they got an actor of color…for Hollywood, that’s progress, right? Take that Cameron Crowe! Until I learned what exact concerns Eastside Café had, I was willing to give the filmmakers some benefit of the doubt, but judging by Hollywood’s long history of stereotyping and excluding people of color, worries of cultural appropriation still occupied my thoughts.
The first explanation I received was from Warriors Jiu Jiu, who tweeted that the small businesses around Eastside Café were not compensated and there was no notice of filming. Then I read Eastside Café’s detailed response on their Facebook page.
The majority of the comments to the post were in support of Eastside Café’s efforts to advocate on behalf of the community, with one person advising them to lodge a complaint directly with Film LA Inc., the organization tasked with permitting for on-location filming. A couple of comments accused the Eastside Café owners of being motivated by money, echoing the Film Crew L.A.’s insinuation of being “greedy”. I suspect neither those commenters nor Film Crew L.A. know about Eastside Café’s origins and long history as a Zapatista-inspired communal space; the center doesn’t even have “owners”. Their website even states: “The Eastside Café is an institution of the people and thus doesn’t belong to anyone because it belongs to everyone.” To me, accusing a center that offers donation-based programs for the community and the youth as “greedy” is more an indication of Film Crew L.A.’s ignorance in doing even the most basic research in knowing the community they’re co-opting. How hard is it to meet and greet the businesses and residents you are disrupting with your operation? Even a quick look at Eastside Café’s website or Facebook page might have made Film Crew L.A. think twice about slandering a well-known organization doing good work in the community.
Reaction on Twitter to Film Crew L.A. was very swift and vocal in support of Eastside Café:
So what do you think? Do Eastside Café and community members have valid points about yet another Hollywood film stereotyping a community of color and disrupting a community in a disrespectful (and possibly illegal) manner? Or is the center just angling for a payout? I tried to reach out to Film Crew L.A. for a response but they have since blocked me from their Twitter account:
It seems rather defensive and counter-productive to block someone who simply initiated dialogue for asking the community’s thoughts on a tweet Film Crew L.A. themselves initiated. I never posted anything negative nor did I make any public assumptions while I was waiting to hear from all sides. I can only communicate with them by responding to their original tweet and I’ve asked for their response to Eastside Café’s explanation behind their sign. I hope Film Crew L.A. changes their stance and decides to participate in dialogue with the community they are operating in, rather than severing communication and ignoring dialogue without an explanation.
According to their Twitter cover page, they are related to Film Works, a public education campaign aimed at preserving California’s film industry and more than 190,000 middle class jobs that rely on it. It’s certainly disappointing and ironic that a union for a film crew, which looks out for the best interests of their workers, would turn around and impugn the very working community they are using to get their film made.
Film Crew L.A. never did respond to me but as of Saturday morning as I get ready to publish this story, Eastside Cafe tells me “the producers got word of our sign and we met with them last night, we had a dialogue with the community as there should have been one in the first place….it was a long discussion so it’s hard to write it all down here. We will be posting an update next week. We will meet with the producer again on Tuesday morning. They [location film crew] left as if this morning. I’m at the shop and our neighborhood is back to normal.”
(UPDATE 07/02/2015: On June 20, Eastside Cafe detailed their full version of events after their meeting with representatives from Blumhouse Productions, Film LA, and LAPD Film Unit. According to Eastside Cafe, Blumhouse Productions made promises but ultimately reneged last minute on a second meeting to discuss community concerns and the steps they had promised to make going forward.)