With filmmaker Stan Mitchel…interview by Enyaj Pitchford
In my last article, I focused on the social conditions that led to what was called “The War” by locals, and the dissemination of the community of “Ghost Town” aka Oakwood.
One needs to understand the root causes of the racial tensions between the Latino and Black community, who, as was previously discussed, had played in the sandbox together and played on the same football team in high school. One needs to open your eyes and ears and mostly your hearts and minds, to the cultural conditions that made the climate ripe for a race war. Mr. Mitchell is extremely articulate on these matters He testifies that “Race, connotes a competition, which yields to white supremacy The Latino and African Americans were both oppressed, which created low self-esteem and want of power. Their lack of power created resentment of one another’s power. There was a lack of culture: fathers working long hours, fathers in jail. Young boys looking for guidance, and wind up joining a gang as their family. They equate being strong and making money, with power. Images of power they see in the media or the streets, they equate with manhood. These boys’ leaders were a boy close to their age who is tougher, louder, and has a more authoritative presence. This gives them an example of a man. Girls, cars, money…he’s the man!’” I take a moment to catch my breath. He further explained how for a while the media created the image of the poor black boy, whose mama’s on crack, whose daddy’s in jail, and who is abandoned. But later on, this cute little boy grows up, with all that hurt and pain inside him, still insecure, but now he’s big and buff on the football team and he’s 6’4” and suddenly, he’s scary. So everyone is scared of him or trying to suppress him because of their own fears, and this boy is still only 13 and he’s totally confused as to what’s coming at him and his inner fears turn into a brewing rage and self condemnation.. Stan says “I’d wager the guys who make you want to fear them are just hiding the fear that they have inside. The big secret is that the boogie man has fears too. Politics is being shrewd…when you’re less sophisticated you engage in power tricks. Money, muscle, killers..”.
Stan then adds ”And that is why Venice America’s motto is Culture Heals. If the youth have positive role models; a happy father who works and feels good about what he does and what he earns; not stepfathers and mother’s boyfriends who don’t feel bonded to them. Boys seek guidance and time from their fathers.” But daddy is nowhere to be found in most of these cases. Then, where is the right of passage for these men? Outside of the military and kill or be killed, where does a young boy learn about his inner strength, his responsibilities to himself, his family, his society.? What happens when the elders, who are supposed to steer the youth, instead of fear the youth? These are the signs of a society on the decline.
Yet, this was a period he was compelled to record; a period he lived through. A period where even he admits to carrying a gun when he needed to get groceries and leave his family huddled indoors because he knew he needed to be back with his boys. Ultimately, from the despair of humanity rises its antithesis. “Culture Heals” explores the balm that soothed the scorch of the pavement, the constant scarring of the streets. Culture, which stems from the word “cult” to till, or essentially, to, turn. I witnessed the Culture that rose from ‘95-99, and it was truly a period of Healing. It was a time when there was a rare opening between worlds and the creative types who were ‘hip’, who weren’t coming to take over, but to do their art and hopefully heal things. Nobody makes it easy on Free Spirits anywhere, so the Hood was a place of culture because of the affordable rents, in a home with a yard, And a lot of babies were born from many a couple, and many were of multi-racial, multicultural parents of divergent socioeconomic groups. But everyone was hooked on having a creative existence and engaging creatively within the community. And though there were crack sales going on outside your fence, for hours a day, that danger kept away the undefeatable danger, which is exorbitant rents and instead of homes, “income properties” and instead of a house with land for a garden, it’s “prime real estate.
Those who cultivated the opportunity to make the neighborhood integrated and more peaceful, all got swept away by people who never lived here, or just vacation here, or just make money here, and all kinds that monetize, standardize, and destroy a culture. Everything just stagnates under the almighty dollar sign, that lost its golden standard.
It’s easy to demonize the developers, but the landlords wouldn’t rent to African Americans coming in. They looked forward to ‘white’ faces popping up because that inevitably will ensure their real estate values go up. They are not concerned with healing their neighborhood but making a quick buck. Stan himself had a hard time renting in his own neighborhood. His wife would find a place, and then when she came back with him, the moment they saw him they’d say the place was already rented. Many times a tenant would pose as the manager to keep him from renting at their building. We were lucky, that his wife, the lovely Shirene Zahedhi had known an African American landlord that owned three small cottages on Broadway, and Stan and Shirene and their kids took the rear, I was in the middle with my first baby and another multiracial friend of theirs with their first child took the front home. We had a lot of baby time and music in between our daily hustle in those days. Grew food and planted trees in the yard as Shirene had formed a tree-planting of 99 fruit trees that needed to be planted where your neighbors could share the fruit. It was an amazing time.
Although Stan Mitchel focuses on his personal journey as an introduction to the film, the film is far more than that. It is an anthology of a rare time. When rents were low and artists had a thriving community. Where rich patrons and the local middle class engaged with the artists and the average person valued something unique and original. Then the rule on the boardwalk was that you had to make it by hand and be working on something there and then. It was set up to be a cultural exchange, and it was very successful at drawing crowds. This was a unique time where the Universal Energies converged in Venice and the Gods smiled down on the Creativity and Innovation going on. There was a purpose because you could work hard developing your talent, produce something, and sell it. You could work hard enough that you could rent a place with another fellow artist and set up a base. That is an amazing phenomenon that is the furthest from reality in the Venice of today. And the Silicon Beach crowd has little idea of how much it lost and how much is missing from their current cultural tide trying desperately to get into a groove. Venice developed an original sound, an original beat, an original jam and it was coloring the whole of the city. It flourished throughout the Ocean Front Walk through the Drum Circle. It was not simply a four-beat drone but a spaceship ascending into the cosmos with a thirteen-layered syncopated beat that played the drummer and danced the dancer into a Revelatory Trance of Expansion and Liberation. It was less about the leader and more about the collective. And it was powerful. And yes, it was full of ego and thievery and trickster hustlers, as is any collective endeavor. And it was deliberately destroyed by petty power and control and quick cash in real estate schemes. And it destroyed the chance for future generations to experience that energy. You can feel it at festivals sometimes, but it is planned and coordinated and costs money and time in travel expenses. This was right here, free and spontaneous. This was true Liberation and Healing. The Collective was bigger than any single person or force and it blew your mind for free and for the better. I never had any desire to travel anywhere in those days, as everything and everybody was in Venice. There was no need to see another culture; I just had to walk ten feet to find a whole other experience. It was the greatest and most successful genuinely American experience anywhere, and only a remnant of it remains. All competing to monetize what’s left of it.
And yet, there are still those drawn by the history of Venice, the weather, the ocean, and they come to create a life out of the little they have, hoping for a chance. It’s a beautiful thing when one spots that energy. Culture Heals is the essence of this film and the lesson of being a Venetian; never forget the Wheel of Culture!
Stan’s Venice America while being full of free spirits of all walks of life; some from the streets and self-taught, some from the halls of Ivy League Universities; some famous celebrities, but all were equally part of the community of Venice, spinning out from the hood of Ghost Town, and walking along the Venice Ocean Front Walk and vibing in that mysterious drum circle. This historic star-studded powerhouse film is not to be missed. You’ll be hearing from
Lisa Bonet, the legendary Gregory Hines, Jackson Brown, Tricky the DJ, Gary Dourdan, a few cameos of Don Cheadle, and Machete. But they are just some of the local free spirits who once called Venice America their home.