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Defend Boyle Heights Releases Short Film That Shows How They Fought off Gentrification in Their Neighborhood, an L.A. Taco Exclusive

[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]hat started as a group of community activists taking a stand against gentrification in Boyle Heights in the summer of 2016 became one of Los Angeles’ most notorious moments in the history of the city's development. 

From that year on, Defend Boyle Heights’ controversial but ultimately effective guerrilla tactics against the development in their neighborhood became a topic of debate and scrutiny among Angelenos. The infamous group has flown low since its inception and operated under mostly anonymous identities. Consequently, as much as local and national reporters and filmmakers would try, Defend Boyle Heights were also known to reject any media request for insider access....until today. 

At noon, the activist group, along with filmmakers Rory Mitchell (Writer and Director) and Josh Polon (Producer) released a 14-minute long short film that for the first time ever, gives outsiders a look into their strategies and key members’ full names. The documentary available now to stream below and through Defend Boyle Heights' Facebook page is titled “Diverse & Subversive: The Anti-Gentrification of Boyle Heightsagainst the art galleries that opened in Boyle Heights.” 

Diverse & Subversive: The Anti-Gentrification of Boyle Heights from Diverse & Subversive on Vimeo.

The film focuses on Defend Boyle Heights’ actions against 355mission, Chimento Contemporary, Nicodim Gallery, United Talent Agency, Venus Over Los Angeles, maRS Gallery, and Weird Wave Coffee. Showing how the activist group was ultimately successful in making all of the galleries close. The entire feature was filmed with a 360-degree VR camera which makes viewers feel like if they were in the protests alongside the group. 

“The doc is three years in the making and also interviews our haters,” Nancy Meza tells L.A. Taco via e-mail. She is a former Coalition Member of Defend Boyle Height and perhaps the group’s most famous member, going as far as inspiring a character after her in the Starz drama series based in Boyle Heights, “Vida.” Ironically, the show's last season also premieres this weekend. 

“The film shows a never-before-seen view of us and our organizing.”

To address the elephant in the room of why Defend Boyle Heights chose to collaborate with neighborhood outsiders Mitchell and Polon on the film project rather than filmmakers from the neighborhood, Meza informs L.A. Taco that it was a decision made over keeping themselves accountable and years of establishing trust with Mitchell and Polon. “After much vetting and conversations with Rory and the understanding of the importance of capturing our own stories, we decided to work together on making sure this movement was documented with us and not just simply ‘about us.’" 

They both initially bonded in 2016 over a mutual passion of resisting Trump, she shares. 

“Rory, being a white dude with beard and glasses was able to obtain a lot more access to our haters and adversaries that we did and show that very real tension and struggle.” Hence the film featuring interviews with some of the targeted business owners sharing their side of the story alongside the community member's concerns.   

“Calling the actions of Defend Boyle Heights racist denies an understanding of the role of systemic racism in our society...”

“Calling the actions of Defend Boyle Heights racist denies an understanding of the role of systemic racism in our society,” shares Mitchell, a native of the San Fernando Valley, over a phone interview with L.A. Taco. When confronted about the challenges that may arise from being white and filming Defend Boyle Heights protests largely aimed towards white businesses, he confirms that he never “felt any racism towards [him] or that [he] was judged for being a white person.” 

“The fact of the matter is that I admire Defend Boyle Heights and every element of that alliance.” 

While gentrification is a loaded subject for many to talk about publically yet alone cover in any form of media due to its multi-layered racial complexities, Mitchell hopes that the film will encourage more conversations around the topic as Los Angeles to continues to rapidly develop and change. “I hope this film will make people want to have these difficult conversations that no one really wants to have around this subject.”

When appropriate after the pandemic, the filmmakers hope to provide live VR screenings and a series of events around the city to spark further conversations around gentrification. 

“I think the film should speak for itself and raise more questions than provide answers.”

Editor’s note: The video can be experienced in VR via the Vimeo app on mobile phones. If too fuzzy or video is lagging, you may have to toggle with the video quality. 

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