Monday, August 14, 2017
This show has been on my radar ever since I first heard about it. Over the weekend, I was able to see the entire seven episodes of the series and listen to a Q and A discussion with America Ferrera and Aaliyah Williams, who were executive producers, director/creator/co-writer Marvin Lemus, co-writer Linda Chavez, Josefina López of Real Women Have Curves and the homie Nancy Meza repping Defend Boyle Heights. The screening was the first time the entire seven episodes of the show were shown in public, with three previously being screened at Sundance. I myself didn't do any research about who was putting it on, the director, the writer, actors etc. because I wanted to go in there cold and just take it for what it's worth. When I initially bought the tickets to go see it, I was expecting it to be a traditional q/a shesh between those who worked on it, so it was a nice surprise to find out Nancy was going to be part of the discussion the day of. That being said before I start getting into the meat of things, take this as your semi-spoiler warning for the show. They themselves don't know when the full seven episodes will be shown publicly again or where, so if you want to see them without any of the contexts I'm going to get into and brief descriptions of the episodes, click here instead and read this after you've seen the show.
I liked the show. It was clever, played to the strong suits of co-writer Linda, who in the panel discussion shared that she's mostly been working on projects like Gentefied, in-which they're short and episodic. The actors and characters in the show came off as natural to me because I actually know folks like those who were portrayed in the show. That being said, I couldn't help notice that one character specifically was straight up lifted from someone I know. This was something that was a topic of conversation in the past with another friend who knows said person, but after seeing it for myself, all I gotta say is what the fuck. During said past conversation, this was done w out said person being asked if they were cool w gentefied folks making them into a story n character for the show. Has that changed between said past conversation and now? I dunno. I'd have to check in w said person about it and possibly bring up old shit they didn't want to be brought up again. At the same time, most of the characters on the show were archetypes of hetero and queer Latino/a millennials and not so millennials.
When I first heard about the show and what the premise was, my reaction was one of "these mother fuckers are gonna come into a neighborhood they know nothing about and try to tell its story? fuck that noise." Those feelings were further fueled by a combination of a few things, said story of person being made into a character for the show, not being able to learn more about the show, and of course neighborhood chisme. At the screening, I attended I was finally able to learn more about the production of the show and what the goal of it was. You can read my live tweeting of the discussion here. Goal number one is, of course, to challenge the stereotypes of mainstream media and pop-culture have of communities like Boyle Heights. To that extent, they hit their mark. They shared new stories and perspectives that have barely been seen anywhere in tv, movies, media etc and while it will never be enough or fully capture all the different nuances that the trans, queer, hetero Latino/a identity encompasses, it's a good start. At the end of the day, you have to remember that they're trying to process complicated and diverse identities to mass audiences via a notoriously racist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic industry.
The seven stories told in the series are almost universal to the point that you could make the exact same show with any other community-based in the Bay, New York, Texas and anywhere where gentrification is happening. That being said, be sure to watch the comedy series The NorthPole when it comes out on September 12th. I liked the Pulp Fiction story telling element in which each story isn't necessarily self-contained, but rather they all weave together at different points and uplift one another. That was nice, but also a cost saving measure on production cost, I'm assuming. They came on a bit strong for my taste w regards to the use of buzzwords and cultural tropes that while hella relatable, they keep repeating themselves after a while and it loses its comedic punch. The characters themselves are also hella relatable to the extent of it being refreshing. Not a single cholo trope to be found. A lot of folks will be able to relate to five of the seven characters because they are grounded in what said folks have or are going through. The notion of not being enough when it comes to culture, identity, and politics are hella common experiences and building off those will no doubt get buy in from folks. On top of that, the commentary on the dynamics of how a community slowly changes and why are hella on point to the extent that it will for sure open up the eyes of some of the folks who watch the show.
Now for the neighborhood chisme aspect of all this. Like I said, when I first heard about the show, I was all like "Fuck Gentefied" and to an extent, I was justified in how I felt. During the panel discussion after the screening, I come to learn that the director got the idea for the show after he moved to Pico Union. Homeboy didn't bother to learn the name of the neighborhood he moved into and described it as that neighborhood between downtown LA and Koreatown. In that moment of self-realization and his complicit contribution to the gentrification of Pico Union/Westlake, he got the ball rolling for gentefied. He then visited Boyle Heights and had a kind of spiritual awakening and connection to the hood, which is totally understandable. I do the same when I visit other hoods. So then other things started falling into place with a co-writer, getting the money to fund the project, casting etc. Again, read my twitter thread from the screening to get some other details.
Boom, show production starts and their true colors start showing. I come to learn that someone for the show was visiting local shops to buy wardrobe and other things for the show. While said shopping was being done, they asked for a discount because they were buying so much from them. I was all like hell nah. Always support local and never ask for a discount, especially if folks are your family and/or friends. They can't pay their bills with thanks and homie discounts. During the panel discussion, I come to learn that Nancy was able to connect w the director and writer at some point during their production to bring them down to earth and provide a direct link to the BH community. While I don't know the full details of how all of that went down and to what extent, from the outside in, it looks to me like bringing in community was an after thought and not something that was intentional from the beginning. But that's not to say that they don't deserve some kudos for being open to that process and being flexible to try and make things right moving forward. Any other production wouldn't have taken the time to listen to locals, let alone sit down and work w them in helping ground the show. However, when I ran into a homie from the neighborhood whose actually in the acting industry, they shared that they tried to connect folks from the show with local talent. They didn't wanna hear any of it and did what they wanted, totally dismissing local folks. Not cool and not surprising.
So what does all this mean for BH? Despite all the neighborhood chisme that's public and not public, I wanna know what is the show and everyone behind it going to do for the community? I'm assuming a free community screening of the entire series is somewhere down line, but that's not enough. If they truly wanna do right by the stories they wanna tell then they need to put those same kinds of intentions back into the community. It's easy to come and take and then never look back. That's the norm for mainstream tv and movie productions *cough Agents of Shield *cough. To me, that'll be the real reflection of them and what they're about.