'Lowriders' film production leads to some anger, debate in El Sereno

Eastside L.A. neighborhood is divided over the filming of 'Low Riders'

Socorro Arredondo was thrilled when a film location scout approached him about two months ago asking to shoot scenes for a new movie called "Lowriders" in his El Sereno auto shop.

A film crew member described the movie as a tale about a man, his traditionalist Latino father, and his gang-banger brother. Arredondo said he ended up bonding with the film crew and was paid for the days they spent filming in his shop, 3 C's Car Automotive. The shoot brought a slice of Hollywood to Arredondo's Eastside neighborhood, and he and his mechanics got to snap photos with the movie's stars, including actress Eva Longoria.

Then, earlier this month, a sign went up at the Eastside Cafe — a cultural and educational space next door — blasting the film for perpetuating stereotypes and exploiting the mostly Latino community.

"Eastside Cafe does not support Low Rider exploitation film," the sign read.

On Facebook, the cafe criticized the film production for taking up parking spaces and blocking traffic and for painting "over a memorial mural that mourned the death of a young boy of our community."

"We're fighting on high moral ground for respect for the community," said Roberto Flores, a coordinator with Eastside Cafe. "They're selling our culture and they never give anything back."

But the conflict underscores how complicated labels like "community" can be in working-class neighborhoods where aspiring spokespeople are not always in short supply.

"This was an opportunity for El Sereno to be up there in Hollywood, that's the way I looked at it," Arredondo said. "I just hope we don't get a bad impression of El Sereno and hopefully there's a part two of 'Low Rider' and they won't get scared away from this controversy."

The memorial mural that was painted over had been on a wall belonging to his shop, he said, and the film crew gave him money to pay the artists who painted it and other murals, and they will be able to restore the art.

Next door to the Eastside Cafe, at Mundo's Upholstery Shop, owner Porfirio Cantero said the film's plot never crossed his mind. But the film shoot did cost him business, he said, because it created a parking crunch.

Cantero said he was grateful when Flores told him he was negotiating with the film crew on compensating business owners for the parking inconvenience.

"Roberto is a person who did this for the rights of the people," Cantero said. "I see him as a leader of the area."

Flores said that the cafe was taking "a stand against the disrespect. Part of the demand was compensation for all small businesses." But Eastside Cafe ultimately decided to "refuse any compensation to emphasize that our struggle was for respect and justice."

"People thought we were trying to get money," Flores said. "We decided as a group that we're going to fight this from a very firm, moral position. Even if offered, we are not taking any money."

But at Aguilera's Barbershop around the corner, the debate mirrored what happened last month when hip-hop artist Pusha T spent a day shooting a music video at the business and used a backyard to serve refreshments to the crew.

The backyard is rarely used by businesses, said Juan Landeros, manager of the barbershop, but Eastside Cafe asked the crew for compensation for the inconvenience. They, along with a few other businesses, received money for the day spent filming.

To Landeros, the latest disagreement was less about idealism and taking a stand against cultural stereotyping than it was about getting paid. Early this month, he said, Flores came by the barbershop and asked if staff supported asking for $200 for every day of filming for businesses on the block. Landeros said the movie's plot and the topic of stereotypes didn't come up.

"I don't believe for a minute that they don't want money," Landeros said. "Idealistically I would have liked to believe they were going for the social movement, but the way they went about it was not the right way.... For them to claim to be the voice for us is offensive."

Shortly after Eastside Cafe went public with its grievances, someone used the Twitter account @filmcrewLA to tweet: "The Eastside Cafe apparently doesn't like Eva Longoria and her film 'Low Rider' ... there greedy." The account has since been shut down.

The Eastside Cafe and the production have declined to go into details about the conflict.

On Thursday, the nonprofit FilmL.A. spoke with representatives for Eastside Cafe and Here and Now, a neighborhood shop that sells spiritual wares such as herbs, candles and incense, during a meeting coordinated in conjunction with Councilman Jose Huizar's office.

"Now we know who to reach out to when filming comes to the area," said Philip Sokoloski, a spokesperson for FilmL.A, an organization that coordinates the on-location filming permit process. "We always try to make sure we connect with business owners in the area. The next time filming visits the area, we'll know the right people to reach out to."

But some business owners and residents said they wonder if film crews will think twice about coming.

"I don't think they'll come back," said Elaine Fermin, a 35-year resident of El Sereno who lives near where the filming occurred. "Who wants to be around people who are so outrageous? It's ridiculous."

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