Since 2002, the Eastside Café (ESC) has been committed to the belief that all people and all communities have the right to self governance and self-determination and that we possess within our own communities all the knowledge and power to make this a reality. We are not involved in a struggle for power — we possess the power already and are working to create a positive alternative to the negativities of our present situation.
The individuals that make up the collectives at the Eastside Café fully support the mission and vision of creating a new world that is inclusive and have focused on issues of social justice for the last 14 years. We’ve validated stories from the people who have been voiceless, we’ve provided resources and free arts and culture programming that have been needed in the community such as ESL classes, Folklorico, Son Jarocho, Health and Healing, Yoga, feminist circles, political events, platicas, hosting speakers from all over the world, open mics, community meetings and more. We recognize that we are unique from other spaces in that we are donation-based space, autonomous from the government and take pride in utilizing a model learned from our own experience and reinforced by the Zapatista Movement.
ESC would like to explicitly express our concerns about the filming of “Low Riders” by Blumhouse Productions. To honor our demand of transparency and communication, we hereby share our own account of what took place around the filming. We do not want our longstanding willingness to engage in this conversation to be misconstrued in any way; we view this as an opportunity to shed light on an industry that has historically perpetuated stereotypes of our neighborhood. We continue to call out the disrespectful and unprofessional behavior of a film crew that disregarded basic common sense and courtesy deserved by any community.
“If we don’t envision how to rebuild our communities or how to tell our stories, other people with their own interest, will develop that vision for us….We will not let this happen because we matter, our lives matter, our culture matters, our communities matter…” ESC
Starting on May 25, ESC began to notice that Blumhouse Productions film crew and their equipment were restricting parking and customer access from surrounding businesses. With further inquiries, we learned that the crew did not communicate with many of our neighbors, and gave short notice of filming dates, which are against professional standards. The crew also painted over a memorial of a young man from our neighborhood. When one ESC member tried to communicate with the film crew about these concerns, he was met with a non-cooperative response. This propelled further action.
On May 31, the Eastside Cafe Coordinating Committee met and decided that we would not ignore this grievance and further decided that we would not ask for any compensation to emphasize the fact that what we wanted was respect and justice. Lastly, the coordinating committee decided to make a poster that called out the exploitation of the film production with intention to raise awareness of the issue. Instead of reaching out to us, Film Crew LA (not to be confused with Film LA) responded on Twitter calling us “greedy.” This comment led to a community outcry on social media which pressured the production house to finally meet with ESC.
On June 5, ESC organized an emergency meeting where fifteen members came together to address our concerns with Producer Beatriz Sequeira and three of her coworkers at Blumhouse Productions. Ms. Sequeira apologized profusely and they agreed to the following:
- They will meet with us on June 9 at 11am to update us on what they’d work on to resolve our concerns.
- They would write an apology letter, signed by all the producers.
- They will find out who was behind the Twitter post and ask them to post an apology letter.
- They will compensate the Liquor store, Upholstery store, the Barber shop, the Party store and the Eyebrow thread store.
- They will keep open avenues of communication with three key members of ESC via telephone and email.
- They will talk to community members from Boyle Heights / Corazon del Pueblo in advance about specific dates, times and notifications of their next film shoot.
- They will contact the muralist to repaint the memorial mural.
- They will share contact information of the film’s associate producers, and “bosses.”
Soon after the Twitter post, Low Riders Movie offered the businesses $200 for 10 days of filming. This added injury to insult. We encourage the producer to justly compensate our business neighbors because many of them suffered losses caused by the filming.
After the meeting on June 5, ESC was again invaded and continuously bombarded by corporate media and news outlets including Univision, Fox News, Fox Latino, NBC, Telemundo and the LA Times. After an NBC interview, we exercised our right to decline all other interviews, partly because, at that moment, we were in good faith discussions with Ms. Sequeira. We felt that it was important to respect and protect what we viewed as a positive process.
Blumhouse Productions did not come through with any of the agreements above. Instead, Ms. Sequeira emailed 30 minutes before our June 9 meeting canceling and telling us to contact a representative from Film LA and Julio Torres of District 14 office. She wrote, “These are the best people to continue the conversation with.” Although she does not handle permit-related issues her in/actions are again unprofessional and disrespectful to our community members who advocated to organize the second meeting in hopes of reaching a broader resolution between our community and Blumhouse Productions.
On June 11, four ESC members met with two representatives from FilmLA and One representative from LAPD Film Unit. All of them agreed that Blumhouse Productions had violated multiple industry standards. According to Film LA and LAPD Film Unit, the film crew should have given at least a 2 working-day notice, instead of posting the notice on a public holiday weekend, Memorial Day. During the film shoot, the crew and their equipment took over both sides of Maycrest, even though their permit only allowed them to use one side of the street; the film crew was shooting well past midnight, at times as late as 3am without a permit to do so. Last but not least, Film LA clarified that, if Blumhouse had admitted that they would film past 10 PM, they would have had to carry out an extensive survey with the affected community a week or two before shooting. Had Blumhouse been honest, this would have given us an opportunity to set some standards, restrictions and limitations on the filming.
On June 13, The LA Times issued an article written by Brittany Mejia that grossly misrepresented the actions of ESC, pitting our neighbors against our collective, without holding Blumhouse Production accountable for their words, or doing any basic investigation on the film crew’s conduct.
In light of these unfortunate events, ESC members have drawn together a deeper analysis of the film crew’s behavior and what it represents:
Blumhouse Productions’ dishonesty and lack of accountability demonstrate how the film industry still does not take low-income communities of color seriously. We doubt that the same behavior would have occurred or been tolerated in wealthy neighborhoods such as Silver Lake or Beverly Hills. ESC would like to point out that our lives, our struggles, our labor and our culture have long served as commodity for the movie industry to exploit and profit from. We strongly believe that progress will not be made and justice will not be realized unless we value a culture that nurtures our community with respect and integrity. We refuse to hand over our narratives to money thirsty multinational industries that sell violence as mass entertainment, in this case Hollywood. Our communities need healing, not a movie where we go and watch and forget about the work needed to keep our community strong and self-governed.
As for the corporate news media, the Eastside Café refuses to be harassed by news reporters who twisted our words, sensationalized our effort, and pitted our community against each other. Instead we made a collective decision to create our own media by expressing a narrative through this statement, we encourage for everyone else to do the same.
OUR FUTURE ACTIONS
The members of the Eastside Café are aware of the atrocities that are happening locally, nationally and globally. We are determined to continue the positive work and effort to create “A world where many worlds fit”. To uplift this struggle and further this important dialogue, ESC will host an open house this summer where our neighbors are invited to join us for a communal dinner. We plan to use this opportunity to share ideas about our cultural programs, create a healing space for all of us to celebrate El Sereno, and to come to an agreement about further productions coming into the area. In order to foster a safe space for genuine exchanges, we kindly request the media to refrain from attending the event.