Protest: Rat Trap | A Considerable Town | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Protest: Rat Trap 

Photo by Wild Don Lewis

Last Saturday, as a curious and slightly bewildered crowd gathered outside the Pantages Theater for a performance of The Lion King, eight young men and women wielded provocative picket signs in front of the ornate theater entrance. One sign featured a rat with a foreboding expression under the phrase “Disney, the racist rodent.” A swastika replaced the s in “Disney.” Across the street, on Hollywood Boulevard’s south side, five more young protesters, some in wool caps, stood with similar signs at the edge of the sidewalk, straddling the curb in front of the Metro station, trying to get the attention of passing motorists.

It was the first night of a series of street protests by members of the Mexica Movement, which works to promote indigenous Mexican identity.

“Disney disrespects our Mexican heritage,” explained the group’s head, Olin Tezcatlipoca, whose sports cap couldn’t contain his graying ponytail. “We’re protesting Disney’s hiring practices.”

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Casting Antonio Banderas (a Spaniard and a white person) to play Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata particularly irks the Mexica Movement, which takes the position that Mexicans should not be labeled Latino (“white people in Latin America,” Tezcatlipoca says) or Hispanic (“of Spanish origin: white people”).

A burly fellow wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Caveman XL Broadway” emerged from the theater and approached a sweet young woman holding a sign that read, “You will support racism by watching Disney films.”

“But this is a theater,” he blurted out, gazing up at the Lion King marquee. “Why don’t you go to where their films are being produced?” Truth be told, they’ve done that, as well as held weekly vigils at Disneyland — where they were pelted with sodas — for the better part of a year until they were mistaken for terrorist sympathizers after 9/11.

“This is not about The Lion King,” Tezcatlipoca said as a white stretch limo deposited a quintet of giggling schoolgirls onto the theater’s outer foyer. “It’s about the hiring practices of the Disney corporation and about Hollywood, which refuses to hire Mexicans in major Mexican roles.” Consider the leading players in La Bamba, Selena and Traffic, Tezcatlipoca said.

“. . . Because Banderas is not Mexican and Zapata was,” the female protester gently told a balding, well-dressed man who listened intently. “And to not hire a Mexican for that role is racist. It’s like hiring Brad Pitt to play Malcolm X.”

After a pause, the man volleyed with equal gentility: “And what are we going to do about space movies?”

A different, more hostile man then barked at her: “And are they hiring Americans in Mexico?”

“That’s not the point!” she countered ardently, her eyes welling with tears.

From the street, a man extended his torso out of the passenger side of an SUV and bellowed a commentary of pleasing simplicity: “Fuck Disney!”

The foyer was now packed, and the row of protesters turned their anti-Disney placards toward the patrons. Meanwhile, in the middle of the atrium, two Disney employees stood on platforms hawking Lion King souvenir programs. Into the midst of all this, three men in shiny suits escorted a large African-American woman attired in a regal, flowing gown and a massive headdress, all bright orange with gold trim. She gazed at both sides with equal disdain, before parading imperiously into the theater.

With curtain time approaching, a nervous theater manager tried to get the protesters to move — they were blocking a loading zone, he said. “Then call the police,” Tezcatlipoca taunted.

“Has anybody actually called the police on you?” I asked.

“No,” he replied, “because the Bill of Rights still applies, at least this week. This is not about civil disobedience. This is about getting out the message.”

One message that apparently didn’t get out to the Mexica Movement is that Disney’s Zapata project isn’t happening. A Disney spokesperson wouldn’t comment on the reasons why the film isn’t moving forward.

“Why haven’t they done a press release? Why didn’t they let us know?” asked Tezcatlipoca when reached by phone a few days later. He pointed out that Disney repeatedly told them that they were proceeding with the project regardless of the group’s objections.

“Why didn’t they just make a phone call? There’s absolutely no respect for our community. That’s just the beginning of the problem with Disney. Assuming they have stopped progress on this film, that doesn’t mean we’re going to quit. We’re going to continue picketing Disney’s little empire until we get a formal apology.”

—Steven Leigh Morris

Losers: We Are the Champions

The long and the short of it is that Kenya’s Stephen Ndungu beat me in the 17th running of the Los Angeles Marathon, and that I am gracious in defeat.

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