Altercation disrupts Leimert Park Village film shoot

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Wave Staff Report

LEIMERT PARK — A physical altercation between safety personnel and members of a South Los Angeles grassroots coalition in Leimert Park Village last month cut short a film production and threatens future filming revenue in an area that has struggled economically, first from construction from the Crenshaw/LAX Rail Line and more recently from the coronavirus pandemic.

Members of Africa Town Coalition and the Safe Passage Public Safety Ambassadors employed by Community Build clashed at the end of the second day of filming for the Apple TV+ series “Truth be Told.” Community Build is the nonprofit organization that manages the Greater Leimert Park Village/Crenshaw Corridor Business Improvement District. The mini-series “Truth Be Told” debuted in 2019 on Apple + and stars Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures.” “The Help”) and Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”).

The day after the altercation, March 4, “Truth be Told’s” production company Are You Sleeping, relocated the film set to Pasadena.

The dispute raised the long-debated issues of gentrification, employment and who decides what is best for Leimert Park Village.

Representatives from African Town and Community Build differ on how the dispute started.

According to Africa Town leader Kevin Wharton Price, who hosted a Facebook Live event to air his grievances against Community Build President and CEO Robert Sausedo and his management of the Greater Leimert Park Village/Crenshaw Corridor Business Improvement District, Price claims Sausedo instigated the conflict.

“Robert Sausedo and his goons approached us in the middle of the street and viciously attached us,” Price said. “We came to talk peace and this is what happened.”

A two-minute video posted on Africa Town’s Instagram account showed several men engaged in a brawl on the sidewalk in Leimert Park Village.

Sausedo denied Price’s allegations.

“I wasn’t even outside when the fight occurred,” Sausedo said. “Kevin and African Town was extorting money from the film crew. The safety ambassadors were not going to let that happen. Now Kevin is trying to redefine the narrative and redirect the blame.”

Price said on Facebook Live that Africa Town’s objective was to confront Are You Sleeping Productions about their relocation of 75 homeless people in a “violent” manner in downtown Los Angeles during a previous “Truth be Told” film shoot in December.

“He took our grievances and he said he would go talk to his head people and we would be back with them,” Price said on Facebook Live.

Are You Sleeping Location manager Tim Hillman denied that any homeless people had been displaced during previous film productions for the Apple TV+ series.

“We did not disrupt any homeless people in Leimert Park or downtown. It was all fiction to get headlines,” Hillman said. “The businesses in Leimert Park were very welcoming and open to our filming and unfortunately the group that came in was very disruptive and we had to stop filming and go away and that was very unfortunate.”

Marvin, a Community Build Safe Passage public safety ambassador who requested his last name not be used, was part of the altercation and also disputed Price’s version of events. He said the security team responded when a member of the film crew alleged that a group of men approached them demanding compensation for the disruption caused by the filming.

“We went out there to check it out,” Marvin said. “Turns out, these guys from Africa Town weren’t merchants in the village. They said they were vendors, but they weren’t selling anything that day, so they weren’t directly impacted.”

Marvin said the situation escalated as he explained to African Town representatives that affected businesses were notified of the film shoot weeks in advance and payments had already been negotiated. He said the exchange turned physical after he told the group, “Nobody is going to pay you, just to pay you, man.”

Chase Johnson, owner of Harun Coffee, and James Burks, former city of Los Angeles director of special projects, negotiated the logistics and compensation for the film production on behalf of the Leimert Park Village Merchants Association and Community Build.

According to Burks, the production company was contracted to pay $38,000 for the three-day film shoot. According to Community Build’s records, this amount is substantially more than the filming revenue received for all of 2020.

A portion of the money was allocated for the Leimert Park Village Merchants Association and the balance will be proportionately distributed to the businesses based on their daily sales.

Burks said this is not the first time Africa Town and other disgruntled groups have disrupted commerce in Leimert Park Village. He recalled two years ago when a group of protesters interrupted a performance of Barbara Morrison’s annual jazz festival.

“They were unhappy because white people were coming in,” Burks said. “These agitators have no jobs and they have no respect for the business owners trying to make a living in Leimert Park.”

Sausedo also said he suspects race played a part in Africa Town’s demands.

“We know if it was a white group putting a shake down on Black producers, it would be a whole different conversation,” he said. “Also, film revenue puts money into the pockets of Leimert Park merchants and they’re disrupting that.” he said.

“I believe in individuals and organizations being able to freely participate in public protests as an American right. However, I cannot condone how Africa Town continues to extort and perpetrate urban terrorism and discord within the community and then distorts the truth.”

Leimert Park Village Merchants Association President Aminah Muhammad, owner of Queen Aminah, an Islamic attire boutique, said that the different factions of Leimert Park Village should work out their differences because film shoots increase revenue and make the area a tourist destination.

“When there’s a movie shoot in Leimert Park that airs nationally, you’d be surprised at how many people come to Leimert just because they saw it on television,” Muhammad said. “Filming in Leimert Park is good for business and we need that right now.”