Protest in Leimert Park Ends in Fistfight with Black Men
Leimert Park, CA–When news spread last month that a film crew would arrive in Leimert Park to film an episode of Apple Tv’s ‘Truth be Told,’ the crime drama starring Octavia Spencer, community organizers quickly organized a protest.
Leimert Park is one of the last Black cultural hub’s of Los Angeles, as gentrification continues to rapidly change the Crenshaw district landscape. While many Black natives are fighting to maintain their stake in the community that raised them, the high cost of living and aggressive real estate projects including Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX line, continue to push native Black’s out the area.
Despite these factors, hundreds of Black’s come to Leimert Park every weekend engaging in African drum circles, patronizing local Black businesses and various street vendors and just basking in collective Black joy–free from all the outside noise of Los Angeles politics–if only for the weekend.
Behind the scenes, however, the politics in Leimert Park reveal a struggle for community control and autonomy from outside (white) forces–mixed with a dedicated group of Black business owners who have invested thousands into the area providing cultural events and safe spaces.
At the center of the controversy is Community Build, a non-profit organization in Leimert Park currently headed by Robert Saucedo. Saucedo has been clashing with community activist group Africa Town for some time now, over funding directed to Community Build and the lack of access to community resources. From funding for keeping Leimert clean, to the struggle of street vendors to maintain access to Leimert Park streets.
These are people who grew up locally and still live in the community today. They are Black community organizers who are concerned with the rapid changes of the community and those Black’s who are being left behind.
These same outside forces community activists groups are fighting to keep out, also provide the resources and capital necessary so that the financial toll of maintaining these events and spaces are not coming out of Black business owners pockets.
This includes requests to film in Leimert Park, which has been no stranger to Hollywood since Moesha aired in 1996. Those of us who grew up watching Moesha, remember her dancing in front of the fountain during the intro in Leimert Park on Crenshaw. This same fountain, is currently locked behind a large blue gate around Leimert Park which has also increased community tensions.
Top this off with filming in Leimert Park-where mostly white film crews set up makeshift sets for Hollywood reenactments–in the midst of these community undertones. This film crew only bubbled the underlying issues, threatening to erupt and bring them to the surface–which was the end result.
As the film crew packed up their set, I took the opportunity to interview the set designer, as well as set scouts to get their views on the situation. The set scouts wanted it to be clear they were supporters of BLM and tried to be conscious in scouting locations for the series.
Their choice to film in Leimert Park was due largely in part to the creator of ‘Truth Be Told,’ Nichelle D. Tramble Spellman was a California native from the Bay Area.
“I’ve been coordinating with local businesses. We also coordinated with ‘Mosh,’ who filmed here in December. They had a very successful shoot, everything went smooth. The location manager there said they worked with Community Build and a man by the name of James Burkes who kind of worked as a liaison,” said Assistant Scout Manager Justin Boswick.
Boswick says that having someone local to help coordinate was very helpful considering he manages several set locations at once.
“It helps eases tensions because I’m a white kid with bleached hair walking around. I don’t know this area, I’m here obviously working. I would much rather be hiring locals as much as possible to help this transition as we come to film here. Community Build said don’t worry, we have contacts with the merchants, we have contacts with building owners,” Boswick detailed.
He further stated that Community Build hired people from their organization to help with “the process.” When asked where the issues came in, Boswick said to him, it seemed that local street merchants had been clashing with Community Build over filming issues for some time now.
To help ease tensions, Boswick said he tried to get a list of street vendors who said they were affected by filming by Africa Town Coalition, who were leading the protest.
“We said hey, can you give us this list because we do not want to upset street vendors. Everyone has a family to feed, everyone has rent to pay. They said they didn’t want money–they wanted to send a message to Apple and to Paramount that they were displacing Black communities.”
Boswick also mentioned an article published to Knock L.A in December when they filmed at City Hall, which stated their filming had displaced homeless people downtown. He called the article inaccurate and sensationalized which was posted to Twitter and caused a lot of controversy.
“It was a bit bias because they never asked us what was going on when we were filming there. When the community saw we were filming in Leimert Park, they thought we were displacing people and said we are going to shut this down because Apple is not connecting with community members.”
Freelance Set Decorator Kristine Peterson stood by watching her visions come down as quickly as they were brought to life. A bus stop stood near a rustic looking record store created by the set designers across from Hot and Cool Cafe. Earlier in the day, community members could be seen arguing in the middle of the street near a bus brought to Leimert Park for the scene.
“We are supposed to be representing Oakland. The first part of today is supposed to 1985, so we tried to create a repair shop from 1985 and a records store. They meet at this same bus stop 35 years later because there has been a misunderstanding between the two of them and so they are sort of going back to the roots of where they met. We are trying to create the reminiscent of the neighborhood and we thought this was a great location to do that,” Peterson detailed.
When asked why filming had to be stopped for the day, Peterson replied,
“According to my first AD who actually lives in the community, when we were filming downtown there was a rumor that was not true that we displaced a lot of homeless people in order to shoot down there. Which we did not. That got on Twitter and it sort of preceded us here. Someone who read that realized that was the company we were, so they disrupted the shooting. What I hear now the police and community leaders have spoken to our location manager and the businesses who have been paid said we stand by you and will protect you being here.”
Peterson says that every single business was paid to shoot that day. According to local news reports, this was paid to Community Build in the sum of $38,000 and will be distributed to local businesses based on their daily income.
“It’s unfortunate that it played out Black against Black, but again the issue is white people coming to take our space. They have found certain groups of Black people that will assist them in doing so,” said Africa Town Coalition Member Billion.
“On the ground level it looks like two Black entities are going at it, well two Black entities are going at it, but we are staying focused and we want the community to stay focused on we are ultimately dealing with L.A Metro, Mayor Garcetti, USC and all other developers that are coming in here building housing we can’t afford, pushing our people out. That’s the bottom line.”
During the height of the 2020 protest regarding police brutality and the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, historically white-centered and owned corporations attempted to rebrand themselves under the BLM banner. Slowly but surely, some of these same white companies and corporations have found their way to Leimert Park through community partnerships, grants, campaigns, marketing and investments.
Although the future of filming in Leimert Park is currently on pause due to the recent turmoil, it is an opportunity for local stakeholders and community activists to finally find some resolve.
When I contacted Robert Saucedo of Community Build he released the following statement saying that Community Build has been a pillar in the community providing over 17 million pounds of food to the community, as well providing over 600 temporary jobs and other resources.
“The vicious unwarranted online rants against me personally and anyone associated with Community Build, Inc., by Mr. Price and William Campbell aka “Billion Godsun” have been a constant source of dissention and division for the community. Africa Town’s recent disruption of a film production by threatening and extorting money from them resulting in the film crew relocating to Pasadena was and is incomprehensible.
This disruption has the potential of damaging Leimert Park Village’s reputation in the film community as a production-friendly location and thereby taking thousands of dollars out of the pockets of businesses at a time when they need it most.
When this behavior was brought to ourattention by the film production crew, CBI’s safety ambassadors intervened. I’m speaking up now because I can no longer stay silent while Mr. Price, Mr. Campbell and African Town Coalition continue their campaign to advance disorder by constantly wreaking havoc and then projecting
false narratives about circumstances they have created.
Community Build Inc. is solidly and passionately committed to building up our community and our work speaks for itself. I pray that the community no longer has to endure and suffer from the destructive activities that they continue to perpetrate while playing the innocent victim. It’s time that they be called out for their “Trumpian” behavior.”