Caravans of lighting trucks, make-up trailers, and camera cranes are already a familiar scene for residents of New York or Los Angeles, where the inconveniences of location film shoots are more or less built in to the fabric of everyday life. But for tight-knit Latino hoods like LA’s El Sereno, a signed production permit isn’t always enough to get the locals on board. So when an army of trained thespians rolled through the neighborhood donning cholo wardrobe clichés and brandishing prop guns back in 2015, the red flags understandably went up.
Ultimately, after residents took to social media to condemn production team’s arrogant attitude and total lack of engagement, pushback against the “untitled Lowriders project” coalesced around an iconic local café, which put up a sign condemning the “Lowrider exploitation film.” But, as these things go, tensions eventually eased and the medium-budget English-language debut from Peruvian director Ricardo de Montreuil continued shooting unabated.
The final result is a feature entitled, well, Lowriders and starring Gabriel Chavarría, Demián Bichir, Eva Longoria, Tony Revolori, and Theo Rossi. Apparently boasting more authenticity than it originally let on, the film follows Danny a young graffiti artist trying to bomb his way to fame while his father pressures him to take over the family car-detailing business. Things get thrown for a loop when Danny’s brother Ghost returns from a stint in prison and old family tensions are reignited around an upcoming lowrider competition.
Judging from the trailer, Lowriders makes a concerted effort to distance itself from the tired clichés of Chicano gangbangers caught in cycles of violence and poverty. With an opening voiceover speaking to the cosmopolitan millennial experience – where it’s not too hard to leave one’s ethnic enclave and enjoy skate parks, punk clubs, and hipster art galleries before falling back on your favorite taco spot – the film offers up a realistic portrait of a gentrifying but still proudly Mexican-American East Los Angeles neighborhoods.
Visually, the film’s desaturated, handheld cinematography and warm Southern California light makes the whole affair Instagram-friendly, while a straightforward hip-hop soundtrack does the trick alongside images of gritty urban landscapes and graffiti-scrawled walls. The acting appears solid from all parties, though the screenplay does seem to turn on the melodramatic waterworks for the telenovela fans out there. Will it all be enough to win over the proud community that this production so rudely invaded a few years back? The jury’s out till May 12th, when Lowriders premieres nationwide.