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Inglewood Says Film Portrayal Is a Bum Rap

February 14, 1992|MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Furious that the movie "Grand Canyon" portrays their city as a crime-torn ghetto, Inglewood officials threatened Thursday to ban movie production in the city unless the movie's producers apologize.

In an open letter to the Hollywood community, Inglewood officials called the movie an "assassination of an entire municipality's character" and "a dangerous display of social irresponsibility."

"When I saw the movie I felt like I was slapped in the face," said Mark Sinaguglia, president of the city's Chamber of Commerce. "I take it as a personal accusation toward me and everyone in the city. How dare they say something like that?"

Director Lawrence Kasdan's tale of Southern California soul-searching begins with actor Kevin Kline's car breaking down on his way home from a Lakers game at the Forum after he gets lost while taking a shortcut. Kline is threatened by gang members on a blighted street that he identifies as being "somewhere in Inglewood" and is told later by his son that he was lucky to get out alive.

City officials have been privately seething since the movie's release at Christmas, but they went public with their anger this week after community complaints continued to flood telephone lines at City Hall.

"While it is true that there is crime in Inglewood (as there is everywhere else), on the whole, the residents of this city are just as law-abiding, if not more, than others in cities of comparable size and diversity," the City Council said in a four-page letter distributed to trade publications and the media. It will be published in a Screen Writers Guild newsletter.

"We're not talking censorship," said Truman Jacques, Inglewood's public relations director. "There's no book burning or movie burning going on. We're educating Hollywood about how their movies affect people. We know there are bad things here but we're looking for balance."

The city's call for an apology has drawn no response from Kasdan, a popular director who wrote the screenplay with his wife, Meg, or 20th Century Fox.

The ban on filming was just one sanction suggested by the council. The city may also protest the movie with ads in Hollywood trade publications or ask film companies to agree before filming that they will not disparage the city.

Inglewood was used about two dozen times last year for films, including "Lethal Weapon III," which has not yet been released.

The movie controversy comes in the midst of a major image-enhancing campaign by the predominantly black and Latino city of 110,000. Tired of turning the other cheek as outsiders malign their town as "Ingle-Watts," officials have plastered the streets with glossy Inglewood banners, hired an $80,000-a-year public relations man--Jacques--and paid $150,000 for a Rose Bowl Parade float.

Officials said "Grand Canyon" has brought them back to square one, combatting racial stereotypes about a middle-class city that they say has more black professionals than gang members.

"Yes, Hollywood has artistic license but Hollywood also has social responsibility," said Councilman Daniel Tabor, who has been leading the protest against the film. "We want to talk about this with the industry. We want them to be more responsible in the future and assuage the residents who feel they've been wronged."

As soon as the movie was released, city officials said they were deluged by calls from angry residents demanding that the City Council stand up for the city.

The residents, some of whom complained that the movie would cause their property values to fall, called for "Grand Canyon" to be reissued without any reference to Inglewood. To prevent such negative portrayals from occurring again, callers have also recommended that the city review scripts before issuing permits or ban filming on city streets.

All suggestions will be debated by the City Council if the city does not get a response to its open letter, officials said. In addition, Inglewood representatives plan to meet with Hollywood trade groups to attempt to open their eyes to the real Inglewood.

Sinaguglia saw the movie a second time to make sure he was not overreacting. When it was over he interviewed some in the audience and most agreed that the city had been slighted. He sent a letter to Kasdan at 20th Century Fox in late January requesting an apology but said he has not received a response.

Kasdan and 20th Century Fox officials could not be reached for comment Thursday. In a December interview with The Times, Kasdan explained the movie this way:

"Cities are supposed to be hubs of civilization, not war zones. In Los Angeles, we had the fantasy that we could run to our neighborhoods and hide, but that illusion has been dispelled. One wrong turn plants you in enemy territory. There is no safe place any more, no sense of security. 'Grand Canyon' is about the fact that we're all interconnected. If people on the bottom suffer, we all do. The world becomes an unlivable place."

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