A Love Letter to Boyle Heights

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PARK CITY, UTAH — Amidst Los Angeles’s housing crisis, the new comedy-drama web series Gente-Fied, directed by Marvin Lemus and co-written by Linda Yvette Chávez, takes us into the historic eastside neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Over the Cesar Chavez Avenue Bridge, across from downtown Los Angeles’s recent proliferation of sky-rise lofts, new subway lines, and enticing trendy rooftop bars, Gente-Fied takes us into the unseen and unheard predominately Mexican and immigrant working-class enclave weathering the storm of gentrification from outside developers, while dealing with internal tensions and generational changes.

“I read these scripts and found myself laughing out loud, I found myself welling up with pride,” said actress and executive producer America Ferrera at the Sundance 2017 Macro digital panel in Park City, Utah. “I felt that special kind of heart beat that happens when something has been said that you’ve been waiting so long for.”

“Gente-fied” was a term coined by Boyle Heights business owners, also mentioned in the New York Times profile of Boyle Heights as prime real estate trying to avoid the pitfalls of development.

“Instead of outside developers coming in and changing and buying up everything, displacing everyone, we should open up our businesses. The community, la gente, the people should be the ones to open up the business and keep the culture alive,” said the Mexican-Guatemalan American director Lemus at the panel. “But they are still kind of displacing people. So it’s this huge conflict of identity — and that’s me. That’s my entire life, feeling so stuck between not feeling American enough and not feeling Mexican enough and I wanted to explore that.”

At Sundance 2017, three episodes of the seven-part series screened at the festival’s Short Form Episodic showcase. In refreshing, long overdue and insightful roles, the episodes intentionally steer away from Hollywood’s stagnate, one-dimensional, stereotypical portrayals of U.S. Mexicans and Latinos as cholos, gardeners and drug dealers, while cinematographically avoiding an inner-city docu-style muted color gritty feel. The all-Latino cast plays more integral roles that compose Boyle Heights. The scenes are shot with high production value accentuating the vibrant colors that exist in the neighborhood.

The first episode depicts Chris Aguirre, a young “Chipster” (Chicano hipster) owner of a trendy taco shop catering to modern tastes attracting outside Anglo hipsters looking for an authentic Mexican experience within a safe distance. The insecure owner is then challenged by his more street-like cousins questioning his Mexican authenticity. The second episode follows Ana Gutierrez, a queer aspiring graffiti queen commissioned by a white gay liberal developer to paint a mural depicting two men kissing outside a liqueur store. This upsets the older Latina business owner who caters to a more traditional male Latino clientele. Language barriers and sexual orientation make Ana question her stance. The third episode portrays Pancho Hernandez, a bar owner fighting increasing rent by attracting new customers (and losing old ones) to support his daughter’s ambitions.

As the trailer says: “No Cartels, No Guns, No Drugs, Maybe A Little Weed.”

Yet, in efforts to holistically characterize this community, the short episodes were not long enough to get to know the protagonists’ world. Since the episodes are non-chronological and stand-alone, it would be better to make them an hour-long to examine the character, expand the plot and not rush to a conclusion. Additionally, the cinematic world of scripted bilingualism can at times come off just that: scripted. Although this is a talented and insightful cast of Latino actors along with locals, the translation of true-to-life rustic bilingualism to the big screen is an art form that still needs to be finessed.

Gente-Fied has yet to be picked up by distributors for consumer viewing.

You can catch an extended interview with director Marvin Lemus at Sundance 2017 here:

 

Featured image: Gente-Fied

Sharis Delgadillo is a storyteller, activist and multi-platform content producer with experience in broadcast journalism and communications humanizing diverse voices and championing U.S. Latino narratives towards more inclusive portrayals. Sharis has more than 10 years of experience in media including a master's degree in broadcast journalism from USC with unique reporting experience in Israel and South Africa. She recently covered the Democratic National Convention, Sundance Film Festival, and South by South West, and developed communication campaign strategies for legislative reforms.

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