Tag Archives: Hispanic culture

Movie Review: “East L.A. Interchange” – A Documentary

east la interchange

Does a documentary film about the Hispanic community of Boyle Heights shy away from tackling the major issue of the day?

Boyle Heights, a community just east of downtown Los Angeles, is a very interesting place. When I lived in Los Angeles, I would often head there on the weekend to make use of the parks, eat at the fine hole-in-the-wall restaurants, or soak up the multicultural feel of the community. “The Heights” was once known as the “Ellis Island of the West” because of its multiracial nature (it was once the largest Jewish community on the West Coast until the end of World War II), but tensions have hit the barrio. As the Los Angeles Times (“Gentrification pushes up against Boyle Heights – and vice versa”; March 6, 2016) recently noted: “Once the landing spot not only for Mexicans, but also for Japanese, Russians, Italians, and Jews, Boyle Heights has long been perceived as a neighborhood sitting on the brink of the next metamorphosis.”

Yes, the dreaded Spanish word gentefication, or gentrification in English, has now struck. Like Brooklyn, Sacramento (Oak Park), and San Francisco (The Mission District), Boyle Heights is trying to decide whether it wants to be old, interracial, and comfortable; or hip, progressive, and an expensive place to live. Community activists vociferously argue that there are too many art galleries in the city and they rail against the replacement of neighborhood bars by overly cool brew pubs.

brooklyn theater boyle heights

Against this background, I had high hopes for the documentary East L.A. Interchange, a one-hour documentary film narrated by actor Danny Trejo. It’s a film that’s currently being screened at selected colleges. To my eyes, it’s a missed opportunity.

One problem is the title. East L.A. Interchange leads people to think this is either a program about East Los Angeles – which is just east of Boyle Heights, or about the Los Angeles freeways. A better title might have been La Colonia: Boyle Heights.

I will return to the problematic issue of gentrification. What Interchange does well is to deal with the history of Boyle Heights, as heard mostly from U.S.C. professors. And one of the intriguing points made in the documentary is that social discrimination issues began to ease as the predominantly Mexican-American students at Roosevelt High School began to learn about the history of their city: “One of the cradles of Mexican-American culture in the U.S.” Knowledge precedes pride.

To its credit, Interchange is not only well researched but beautifully filmed. And yet its Achilles heel is that the documentary refuses to take a stance on the key issue of gentrification. We learn that Jews first left the community, then Russians were forced out by freeway construction, and now the low to middle-income Hispanics who live in Boyle Heights are threatened by newly prosperous Hispanics and rich hipsters.

BH protest

In order to afford a typical new housing unit in the area, one needs an income of $90,000 and above. Yet the median household income in the Heights is $41,821. It’s a big problem and results in stress, grief and anger. As one current resident states, in Spanish: “I would like it to stay just as it is.” Gentrification, of course, will make this impossible.

The creators of Interchange, after illustrating how the poor have been displaced from the area in the past, inform the viewer that 1,187 affordable housing units are scheduled to be destroyed and replaced by 4,400 new and pricey units. And yet, even after imparting this information, they remain neutral.

The documentary asks the question, “What constitutes beneficial (versus harmful) development?” but fails to answer it. Instead, at its conclusion we hear an elderly Jewish gentleman assure us that, despite recent changes in the neighborhood, everything will be alright. It’s hardly convincing.

Boyle Heights

One key statement heard in Interchange is, “We’re not trying to get out of the barrio. We’re trying to bring the barrio up.” Fine, but in life one must ultimately choose between stasis and change. In electing to support neither the status quo nor change – neither the past nor progressivism, East L.A. Interchange loses its raison d’etre.

Joseph Arellano

The reviewer was provided access to a press screener. The film was directed by Betsy Kalin.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

Movie Review: ‘East L.A. Interchange’ – A Documentary

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I Hear The Laughter

Stand Up Revolution

Is an entire season of TV comedy on one DVD too much or not enough?

DVD Review: Gabriel Iglesias Presents Stand-Up Revolution, Season 2

People pay up to $75 and $80 a seat to see Gabriel Iglesias (AKA Fluffy) perform his comedy in places like Lake Tahoe and Reno. So paying $19.99 for a video disc of his comedy seems, at first glance, like a bargain. However, here Iglesias and his very funny Master of Ceremonies, Martin Moreno, basically serve as the introducers of new comedy talent – some of it average, some of it excellent. There are twelve separate upcoming comedians who come on stage in south Florida, doing a quick – and sometimes not-so-quick – run-through of their nightly act. This disc presents the entire second season of Comedy Central’s show Stand-Up Revolution and some may wish that there was less here rather than more.

With two exceptions, the comedians featured in this compilation are either Hispanic or African or African-American. They might have placed an advisory sticker on the DVD reading, “This is intended for audiences that love ethnic humor. It may not be appropriate for all viewers.” The audiences present during the taping sessions were virtually all Hispanic, and they clearly enjoyed the jabs at their own cultural mores and those of other minority groups.

Trevor Noah, the first of the many comedians, is a mixed race comedian from Africa. He noted that his father was black and his white mother was from Switzerland, as “The Swiss love chocolate.” Noah seems like a nice guy, but not a terribly funny one. Dov Davidoff is the Anglo comedian who appears next and warns the audience to “lower your expectations.” He’s a comedian who tries to pretend that he’s not funny, but he is as he jokes about the economy being so bad that people now watch reality TV to see other people working.

Nick Guerra from south Texas does a pretty average routine about males being dumb and disgusting. It seems like this territory has been well-covered before. Gina Yashere, a black woman from England, is truly funny as when she alerts the audience to the fact that, “Black people are not indigenous to England.” Her set about her return visit to her native Nigeria is pretty much worth the price of admission.

Dillon Garcia is a chubby white-Mexican comedian who tells some good jokes about food and personal relationships. Garcia is followed by Will Sylvince from Haiti. Sylvince will have your sides aching from laughing. His act is almost indescribable – it needs to be seen to be appreciated.

The seventh comedian on stage, Dustin Ybarra, relies on drug and bathroom humor. We’ve heard all this before. Fast forward to Thai Rivera, a gay Mexican-American from Arizona. Yes, that’s right, he’s gay and from the state of Arizona – “I’m not racist. I’m just from Arizona.” Ybarra’s unique digs at his own culture are close to priceless. When told that he doesn’t look Mexican he responds, “Oh, I’m sorry, I left my leaf blower at home.”

Alfred Robles of East Los Angeles is interesting, if not much more, and African-American Tony Baker also revisits some old comic territory. Ian Bagg arrives to save the day with some truly outrageous and funny comedy, before the baton is passed to the final performer, Pablo Francisco. Francisco does nothing memorable.

Big fans of the big comedian Gabriel Iglesias may be disappointed because he only makes brief appearances between the dozen comedians that he and Moreno bring on stage. If you’re a huge fan of Fluffy, you might want to wait for an “all-Iglesias” DVD or save up for one of those costly tickets to see him live and in person.

Recommended, for select audiences.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy of the DVD was provided by a publicist. This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics Video (TV/Film) site: http://blogcritics.org/video/article/dvd-review-gabriel-iglesias-presents-stand/

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