Upcoming Echo Park film actor-producer confirms gentrification theme

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Anthony Okungbowa
Anthony Okungbowa. Source: IMDB.

On June 3rd I published an article that introduced the upcoming Echo Park-based independent film, Echo Parkwhich is premiering this Saturday, June 14th at LA Live (refer to previous article for full details).

In it, I discussed how the movie is bringing the Echo Park gentrification theme to the big screen by telling a love story about a westside Beverly Hills woman and a London immigrant. Both of the main characters find themselves as being newcomers in the community of Echo Park, LA as they explore the culture and people of the neighborhood while searching for an identity and falling in love.

Admittedly, at the time I’d hinted, based on the synopsis of the film, that gentrification would be a theme in the narrative. What I left open for interpretation is how the film will explore and tell the story of gentrification in Echo Park through the lens.

On June 10th, I was pleased to read an interview of Anthony Okungbowa, the actor-producer who plays Alex, the male protagonist in the film, wherein he discusses how gentrification did play a role in the making of the movie.

Apart from gentrification, the interview (by Jai Tigett) has Anthony also discussing various aspects of the film and his acting career. 

Here’s a snippet of what Jai (JT) asks Anthony, a.k.a. Tony (TO), about his involvement and the inspiration that led to Echo Park.

JT: How did you get involved in Echo Park?

TO: It’s actually a story I came up with. It was loosely based on a couple of situations and people I know. People who, even though they’re British or from Europe, they still have immigration problems, work problems, or money problems and they have to move back home. A couple of my friends have literally had to uproot their whole lives and move back to Europe. So they were just vignettes of things that have happened.

It’s interesting because the other day I was watching Spike Lee’s famous rant about gentrification, and it’s happening in every neighborhood. Echo Park is the new hot spot. You can’t walk down the street without seeing new apartment buildings or something being turned over. I moved to Echo Park in 2003 and I guess I was part of a wave of gentrification, but a wave that could withstand its rough edges, so to speak. So I wanted to tell a story that was just about real people. I came up with the story, I met Catalina Aguilar Mastretta, the screenwriter. She wrote a great script and Amanda Marsalis came on board to direct and that was it.

JT: Gentrification is everywhere. I just had a similar conversation with RZA when Brick Mansions was released. And with the characters in Echo Park, you have one of them lamenting how much the neighborhood has changed, and missing what it used to be. How do you feel about the issue?

TO: My view on it is somewhat reflected in the film, which is that no matter where you’re from, you come to a neighborhood and you respect the good that is there. People don’t just own homes in a neighborhood and let it go to hell. There’s good that goes on there, and every neighborhood has its own culture. For instance, if they have a block party every 4th of July and they shut the street down and they’ve been doing it for years, let them do it.

If you come into a neighborhood, you see the good that exists and support that. And then you push out the bad, whether it’s drugs or whatever it is that’s detrimental to the neighborhood, those are the things you get up in arms about. But you don’t just come in and as Spike says, bogart your way in and say, “This is how we’re doing it from now on.” That’s where the friction lies, when you come in and try to dictate as opposed to respecting the good that’s been done and building upon it.

You can read the full interview on the Indiewire blog.

It is fun to speculate, but it is a treat when the creators are able to share their thoughts straight from the source.

Does reading Okungbowa’s thoughts on the film, Echo Park, and gentrification affect the way you will approach the film?

Either way, it’s coming this weekend, and it should be a treat to watch one of LA’s oldest neighborhoods on the big screen, again.


Jose Cervantes is an editor and contributor to Echo Park Forums. He writes about Echo Park community, business, and entertainment.

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