‘Bordertown’ to ‘Bordertown,’ this Mexican author’s journey by means of Hollywood | Arts & Leisure

LOS ANGELES — Whenever I visit Olvera Street, as I did a few weeks ago, my walk through the historic corridor is always the same.

Start at the plaza. Say a prayer at the massive cross that marks the area as the birthplace of Los Angeles. Pass the stand where out-of-towners and politicians have donned sombreros and serapes for photos ever since the city turned this area into a tourist trap in 1930.

Look at the vendor stalls. Wonder if I need a new guayabera. Gobble up two beef taquitos bathed in avocado salsa at Cielito Lindo. Then return to my car and go home.

I’ve done this walk as a kid, and as an adult. For food crawls and quick lunches. With grad students on field trips, and with the late Anthony Bourdain for an episode of his “Parts Unknown.”

This last visit was different, though: I had my own camera crew with me.

My last chance at Hollywood fame was going to live or die on Olvera Street.

I was shooting a sizzle reel — footage that a producer will turn into a clip for television executives to determine whether I’m worthy of a show. In this case, I want to turn my 2012 book “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America” into the next “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” Or “Somebody Feed Phil.” Or an Alton Brown ripoff. Or a TikTok series.

Anything at this point, really.

For more than a decade, I’ve tried to break into Hollywood with some success — but the experience has left me cynical. Personal experience and the historical record have taught me that studios and streamers still want Mexicans to stay in the same cinematic lane that American film has paved for more than a century. We’re forever labeled… something. Exotic. Dangerous. Weighed down with problems. Never fully developed, autonomous humans. Always “Mexican.”

Even if we’re natives of Southern California. Especially if we’re natives of Southern California.

I hope my sizzle reel will lead to something different. I doubt it will because the issue is systemic. Industry executives, producers, directors and scriptwriters can only portray the Mexicans they know — and in a perverse, self-fulfilling prophecy, they mostly only know the Mexicans their industry depicts even in a region where Latinos make up nearly half the population.

The vicious cycle even infects creators like me.

As the film crew and I left for our next location, I stopped and looked around. We were right where I began, except I now looked south on Main Street. The plaza was to my left; to my right was the historic La Placita church. City Hall loomed on the horizon. The vista was the same as the opening scene of “Bordertown,” a 1935 Warner Bros. film I had seen the night before. It was the first Hollywood movie to address modern-day Mexican Americans in Los Angeles.

What I saw was more than deja vu. It was a reminder that 86 years later, Hollywood’s Mexican problem hasn’t really progressed at all.

Screen misrepresentation of Mexicans isn’t just a longstanding wrong; it’s an original sin. And it has an unsurprising Adam: D.W. Griffith.

He’s most infamous for reawakening the Ku Klux Klan with his 1915 epic “The Birth of a Nation.” Far less examined is how Griffith’s earliest works also helped give American filmmakers a language with which to typecast Mexicans.

Two of his first six films were so-called “greaser” movies, one-reelers where Mexican Americans were racialized as inherently criminal and played by white people (a third flick replaced Mexican bandits with Spanish ones). His 1908 effort “The Greaser’s Gauntlet” is the earliest film to use the slur in its title. Griffith filmed at least eight greaser movies on the East Coast before heading to Southern California in early 1910 for better weather.

The new setting allowed Griffith to double down on his Mexican obsession. He used the San Gabriel and San Juan Capistrano missions as backdrops for melodramas embossed with the Spanish Fantasy Heritage, the white California myth that romanticized the state’s Mexican past even as it discriminated against the Mexicans of the present.

In films such as his 1910 shorts “The Thread of Destiny,” “In Old California” (the first movie shot in what would become Hollywood) and “The Two Brothers,” Griffith codified cinematic Mexican characters and themes that persist. The reprobate father. The saintly mother. The wayward son. The idea that Mexicans are forever doomed because they’re, well, Mexicans.

Griffith based his plots not on how modern-day Mexicans actually lived, but rather on how white people thought they did. This presumption nearly earned Griffith a beating from angry Latinos.

As described in Robert M. Henderson’s 1970 book “D.W. Griffith: The Years at Biograph,” the director was staging a religious procession in San Juan Capistrano for “The Two Brothers” when a large crowd “suddenly broke and rushed the actors” because they felt the scene mocked them. The company rushed to their hotel where the townspeople waited outside for hours. Only the intercession of the Spanish-speaking hotel owner stopped a certain riot. It was perhaps the earliest Latino protest against negative depictions of them on the big screen.

But the threat of angry Mexicans didn’t kill greaser movies. Griffith showed the box-office potential of the genre, and many American cinematic pioneers dabbled in them. Thomas Edison’s company shot some, as did its biggest rival, Vitagraph Studios. So did Mutual Film, an early home for Charlie Chaplin. Horror legend Lon Chaney played a greaser. The first Western star, Broncho Billy Anderson, made a career out of besting them.

These films were so noxious that the Mexican government in 1922 banned studios that produced them from the country until they “retired… denigrating films from worldwide circulation,” according to a letter that Mexican President Alvaro Obregon wrote to his Secretariat of External Relations. The gambit worked: the greaser films ended. Screenwriters instead reimagined Mexicans as Latin lovers, Mexican spitfires, buffoons, peons, mere bandits and other negative stereotypes.

That’s why “Bordertown” surprised me when I finally saw it. The Warner Bros. movie, starring Paul Muni as an Eastside lawyer named Johnny Ramirez and Bette Davis as the temptress whom he spurns, was popular when released. Today, it’s almost impossible to see outside of a hard-to-find DVD and an occasional Muni marathon on Turner Classic Movies.

Based on a novel of the same name, it’s not the racist travesty many Chicano film scholars have made it out to be. Yes, Muni was a non-Mexican playing a Mexican. Johnny Ramirez had a fiery temper, a bad accent and repeatedly called his mother (played by Spanish actress Soledad Jiminez ) “mamacita,” who in turn calls him “Juanito.” The infamous, incredulous ending has Ramirez suddenly realizing the vacuity of his fast, fun life and returning to the Eastside “back where I belong … with my own people.” And the film’s poster features a bug-eyed, sombrero-wearing Muni pawing a fetching Davis, even though Ramirez never made a move on Davis’ character or wore a sombrero.

These and other faux pas (like Ramirez’s friends singing “La Cucaracha” at a party) distract from a movie that didn’t try to mask the discrimination Mexicans faced in 1930s Los Angeles. Ramirez can’t find justice for his neighbor, who lost his produce truck after a drunk socialite on her way back from dinner at Las Golondrinas on Olvera Street smashed into it. That very socialite, whom Ramirez goes on to date (don’t ask), repeatedly calls him “Savage” as a term of endearment. When Ramirez tires of American bigotry and announces he’s moving south of the border to run a casino, a priest in brownface asks him to remain.

“For what?” Ramirez replies. “So those white little mugs who call themselves gentlemen and aristocrats can make a fool out of me?”

“Bordertown” sprung up from Warner Bros.’ Depression-era roster of social-problem films that served as a rough-edged alternative to the escapism offered by MGM, Disney and Paramount. But its makers committed the same error Griffith did: They fell back on tropes instead of talking to Mexicans right in front of them who might offer a better tale.

Just take the first shot of “Bordertown,” the one I inadvertently recreated on my television shoot.

Under a title that reads “Los Angeles … the Mexican Quarter,” viewers see Olvera Street’s plaza emptier than it should be. That’s because just four years earlier, immigration officials rounded up hundreds of individuals at that very spot. The move was part of a repatriation effort by the American government that saw them boot about a million Mexicans — citizens and not — from the United States during the 1930s.

Following that opening shot is a brief glimpse of a theater marquee that advertises a Mexican music trio called Los Madrugadores (“The Early Risers”). They were the most popular Spanish-language group in Southern California at the time, singing traditional corridos but also ballads about the struggles Mexicans faced in the United States. Lead singer Pedro J. Gonzalez hosted a popular AM radio morning show heard as far away as Texas that mixed music and denunciations against racism.

By the time “Bordertown” was released in 1935, Gonzalez was in San Quentin, jailed by a false accusation of statutory rape pursued by an LA district attorney’s office happy to lock up a critic. He was freed in 1940 after the alleged victim recanted her confession, then summarily deported to Tijuana, where Gonzalez continued his career before returning to California in the 1970s.

Doesn’t Gonzalez and his times make a better movie than “Bordertown”? Warner Bros. could have offered a bold corrective to the image of Mexican Americans if they had just paid attention to their own footage! Instead, Gonzalez’s saga wouldn’t be told on film until a 1984 documentary and 1988 drama.

Both were shot in San Diego. Both received only limited screenings at theaters across the American Southwest and an airing on PBS before going on video. No streamer carries it.

How Hollywood imagines Mexicans versus how we really are turned real for me in 2013, when I became a consulting producer for a Fox cartoon about life on the U.S.-Mexico border.

It aired in 2015 and lasted one season. I enjoyed the end product. I even got to write an episode, which just so happened to be the series finale.

The gig was a dream long deferred. My bachelor’s degree from Chapman University was in film. I had visions of becoming the brown Tarantino or a Mexican Truffaut before journalism got in the way. Over the years, there was Hollywood interest in articles or columns I wrote but never anything that required I do more than a couple of meetings — or scripts by white screenwriters that went nowhere.

But “Bordertown” opened up more doors for me and inspired me to give Hollywood a go.

While I worked on the cartoon, I got another consulting producer credit on a Fusion special for comedian Al Madrigal and sold a script to ABC that same year about gentrification in Boyle Heights through the eyes of a restaurant years before the subject became a trend. Pitch meetings piled up with so much frequency that my childhood friends coined a nickname for me: Hollywood Gus.

My run wouldn’t last long. The microaggressions became too annoying.

The veteran writers on “Bordertown” rolled their eyes any time I said that one of their jokes was cliched, like the one about how eating beans gave our characters flatulent superpowers or the one about a donkey show in Tijuana. Or when they initially rejected a joke about menudo, saying no one knew what the soup was, and they weren’t happy when another Latino writer and I pointed out that you’re pretty clueless if you’ve lived in Southern California for a while and don’t know what menudo is.

The writers were so petty, in fact, that they snuck a line into the animated “Bordertown” where the main character said, “There’s nothing worse than a Mexican with glasses” — which is now my public email to forever remind me of how clueless Hollywood is.

The insults didn’t bother me so much as the insight I gained from those interactions: The only Latinos most Hollywood types know are the janitors and security guards at the studio, and nannies and gardeners at their homes. The few Latinos in the industry I met had assimilated into this worldview as well.

Could I blame them for their ignorance when it came to capturing Mexican American stories, especially those in Southern California? Of course I can.

What ended any aspirations for a full-time Hollywood career was a meeting with a television executive shortly after ABC passed on my Boyle Heights script (characters weren’t believable, per the rejection). They repeatedly asked that I think about doing a show about my father’s life, which didn’t interest me. Comedies about immigrant parents are cliched at this point. So one day I blurted that I was more interested in telling my stories.

I never heard from the executive again.

Five years later, and that Hollywood dream just won’t leave me.

I’m not leaving journalism. But at this point, I just want to prove to myself that I can help exorcise D.W. Griffith’s anti-Mexican demons from Hollywood once and for all. That I can show the Netflix honcho they were wrong for passing on a “Taco USA” series with the excuse that the topic of Mexican food in the United States was too “limited.” And the Food Network people who said they just couldn’t see a show about the subject as being as “fun” as it was. Or the big-time Latino actor’s production company who wanted the rights to my “¡Ask a Mexican!” book, then ghosted me after I said I didn’t hold them but I did own the rights to my brain.

When this food-show sizzle reel gets cut, and I start my Hollywood jarabe anew, I’ll keep in mind a line in “Bordertown” that Johnny Ramirez said: “An American man can lift himself up by his bootstraps. All he needs is strength and a pair of boots.”

Mexicans have had the strength since forever in this town. But can Hollywood finally give us the botas?

©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Prima Theater Brings Queen and Journey Music to Lancaster in June | Leisure

Queen and Journey music was played everywhere from the largest stadium in the world to all of the dingy karaoke bars on the east coast.

No matter how often these songs are played, the magic of the songs makes them stagnate in case the next generation stumbles.

On the second and third Friday and Saturday in June, Prima Theater’s “Queen / Journey” is a fresh reminder of these songs at an outdoor arena-style performance in the Liberty Place parking lot.

According to Mitch Nugent, Executive Artistic Producer at Prima, the idea for the show “Queen / Journey” was decided almost a year ago in the 2021 planning phase.

“In particular, we focused on the times we lived and the songs that everyone could sing together,” says Newgent. “That is, show the feeling that our community, culture, land and art are united and responsible for helping people celebrate their lives, especially what we have all experienced.”

While every songbook has weathered the challenges of time, it can’t make singing the song any easier. After all, Journey frontman Steve Perry has been called “The Voice” and Freddie Mercury is considered one of the greatest singers and performers of rock and roll.

To this end, three singers exchange their vocal commitments throughout the show. The show will feature Asia Little John, Grace Burns (following her role in the production of Jekyll and Hyde in 2019). (Returns to Prima) and Donovan Hoffer from Lancaster, who has moved to Chicago.

When you go

What: “Queen / Journey” in the Prima Theater

Dates: June 11 (Friday), June 12 (Saturday), June 18 (Friday), June 19 (Saturday) starting at 8:00 p.m.

Location: Liberty Place Parking Lot, 313 W. Liberty St., Lancaster

Cost: Standard Entry: $ 42; Premium booking entry, $ 68.

Details: It is recommended to bring a garden chair. Bathrooms and food trucks are available on site. We recommend wearing a mask unless you are sitting primatheatre.com For many.

“Rock music fascinates people,” says Hoffer. “It’s something that everyone can bring together and celebrate. We all sing together. That makes me so excited about this “Queen / Journey” concert. I think people are hungry to go out and see live music, especially given the pandemic that happened last year. “

Surgical side

“Queen / Journey” follows the combo show “Sammy & Sinatra” with similar intentions in March. The show took the form of a 1939 Buick Special that drove through the city of Lancaster, but “Queen / Journey” aims to recreate the exaggerated dramas and drama of each band’s heyday. I am. yourself.

“What (producers and directors) always say is as written,” sings like Freddie Mercury, “says Hoffer.” Don’t do any vocal exercises because people don’t want to hear that. I speak for myself personally – you want to stay true to the original, but it says it. But it’s cool that these singers are portrayed as opera singers, because I also have this side in the soprano part. I’m trying to find a balance. I let myself come, my taste is in performance and passion, But I try to keep the truth out loud

This is not the first time that Hoffer, who graduated from Penmanor High School in 2009, has combined a classically trained soprano voice with a sharp-edged rock style on stage. A few years ago Hoffer joined the choir on Broadway’s “Rock Topia,” a show that combines classical rock and classical music. Ironically, the show’s website describes “Rock Topia” as “Queen and Journey Meet Beethoven’s Odeode Song”.

Hoffer was called in to attend the show en route to an overland flight to Los Angeles to record a rehearsal for NBC’s America’s Got Talent.

Hoffer is not contractually a mother on the details of his position on the show, but he sang a song from “The Phantom of the Opera” because the show’s producer wanted him to bring out the opera side. TT

When the season starts in June, viewers will know his fate.

“I felt, ‘Wow, the universe is looking at me,'” says Hoffer. “If nothing happens in America’s Got Talent, I’m looking forward to this concert after this experience.”

Newgent explains that it is important to have a certain level of talent in order to interpret not only the music of these masters, but also Prima himself.

“Someone (when I saw the show) did it and thought, ‘It was as beautiful as another world at the time. ‘I was tired of the worldly crap. “Says Newgent. “Or if you eat a slice of pizza in a good place and think it’s still tasty and okay, and then eat a gourmet pizza, you can’t go back to another. In all transparency, the fight was real in that it promised to lower that chin level. “

The effect of the arena concert

In addition to three singers and a four-piece band, Prima consulted with music production experts across the county on everything from lighting fixtures to stage scrims like Tait, Stray and Shumaker. The stage itself is built on a 35 foot stretch. Does not contain any additional stage extension.

“Our taste is a fresh experience, but how is this a unique and fresh experience compared to a tribute concert?” Says Newgent. “We are in this county with Rock Rititz and we have a lot of skill and talent. So we thought we could probably do this at a level that other tertiary cities couldn’t. In the truest sense of the word we. Tests all the effects of an arena concert. All the crazy ideas that came up at 1am in the morning were, “At the bike race, the actors should jump off the stage with their motorcycles.” Let’s do that! Someone said, “Oh, that would be fun,” so I said, “No, I’ll do it.”

There is no guarantee that music will survive beyond its expected storage life. Even more, dozens of songs from two completely different bands (Nugent calls the band’s catalog “Golden Stockpile”).

While the show looks a bit different than a regular rock concert, Prima offers a stage that gives the well-known rock concert a new twist.

“This is a comeback for Grace as a performer and Asia,” says Hoffer. “The difference is that it’s not just the show, it’s the first time the three of us have had a live concert in front of an audience over a year ago. It is a great pleasure for us and the band. And will be very contagious. “

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Prima Theater brings Queen and Travel Music to Lancaster in June | entertainment

Source link Prima Theater brings Queen and Travel Music to Lancaster in June | entertainment

3 ways to journey via the Richmond Zoo | Leisure

One of the joys of the walk-in zoo is the new sloth exhibition in the Reptile / Small Mammal Building. “You can get really close to these guys and take great photos!” said Andelin. The building also includes an area that houses animals that need to be hand-raised or bottle-fed.

In addition, Otter Cove, which only opened last year, invites guests to see it while swimming from viewpoints above and below the water of the “aquarium”. There is now a new exhibition on gray wolves in the North American section. along with skunks, bears and a Steller sea eagle.

Walkable visitors can also take part in a number of tickets, including the Safari train ride. You can explore part of the zoo that is not accessible on foot as they are guided through an 8-acre area of ​​wild animals. Other trips: Safari Sky Lift, Jungle Carousel and the Penguin Falls Drop Tower.

Daily entry fees to the zoo are $ 19.95 for children ages 12-59, $ 18.75 for ages 60 and over, and $ 13.75 for ages 2-11.

Focused on interaction and exploration, the Metro Richmond Zoo offers two exhilarating zip-line experiences, both experienced with the safety of a harness.

Junior Explorer Course: This unique adventure park experience for children from 4 years of age offers a self-guided obstacle course from tree to tree with 21 challenges and two zip lines. The course has two levels. Level 1 participants are between 5 and 12 feet in the air, and level 2 is between 12 and 25 feet above the ground as young visitors cross rope bridges and walk over hanging walkways and tunnels. The entire course is set in the forest over a beautiful, winding stream, and participants can see farm animals roaming free from a whole new perspective. Winter season tickets for the Junior Explorer Course are half price $ 12.50.