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'Skid Row' Documentary a Must See for Downtown Residents

By Jeannine Denholm
Published: Friday, April 25, 2008, at 08:58AM
waiting for the night air Ed Fuentes

Shopping carts packed with possessions sit on the sidewalk at 6th and Gladys.

Last year, Pras of the Fugees came Downtown and spent nine days living on the streets, creating a documentary titled Skid Row. I had wanted to see it when it was in the theater but missed its brief run; fortunately it is now available via On Demand from Time Warner cable and Netflix.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect considering many people have tried explaining or bringing exposure to the whole skid row situation, but I went into it with an open mind. Despite misgivings early on, I came out thinking the film did a good job of displaying the wide array of stories that land people on the street.

The movie starts with a concert featuring Pras surrounded by glamorous Hollywood celebrity friends. The scene puts into context what his life is generally like for those of us who are not familiar with Pras or his worldwide fame with the Fugees. After a few minutes of those slick images the film moves into its main purpose, Pras' move to Skid Row.

There were the obligatory driving shots of the deplorable conditions and a few statistics that at this point I have become numb to because living Downtown, this is something we all see everyday. Pras was left in Downtown LA with no instructions on how to survive and 9 dollars in his pocket.

About 20 minutes in, I almost gave up because I thought it was going to be another Hollywood movie meant to showcase a star’s “concern” about a pet project. On Pras' first day he made about 15 dollars panhandling. He used to the money to eat at the Standard hotel and of course I’m thinking, “yes, this is a luxury every homeless person has.” It got even more ridiculous when a woman later on said she wouldn’t give Pras money but food. When she brought him a meal, she asked if he would eat it. He looked at the sandwich she had purchased and said, “I guess, but I’m vegetarian.”

Despite my growing irritation I kept watching and I’m really glad I did because I was pleasantly surprised. Overall the movie was a rather mixed look at Skid Row and didn’t lump everyone in the “I’m only down here because I lost my job” group. Instead, it took a look at the multitude of explanations people give for ending up on Skid Row. Those reasons included everything from wanting to live in a place where they could do drugs on the street, to having an abusive upbringing, to job loss. The documentary was filming undercover, so the answers on the street were shocking and by the same account refreshing in their honesty.

I thought the movie did a good job showing people who were truly trying to work their way off Skid Row and how hard it was to break the addiction cycle. Perhaps the most profound story thread was the honest portrayal of the steady breakdown of Pras’ mental state as he continued on the street. His demeanor definitely changed from the beginning of the movie when he was enjoying food at the Standard.

One of the most poignant scenes was when his survival mode kicked in and he screamed he no longer cared or thought about sex, family or friends. He only cared about where he was going to sleep and what he was going to eat, a thought that is really meaningful when you consider he knew he was only going to be Downtown for a total of 9 days.

I also liked the fact that he didn’t try to figure out how to solve the situation. He summed up the movie by saying he just wanted to bring exposure and make people aware of life on the streets. LAPD officers, city leaders and those who work on Skid Row were featured offering different thoughts but no one professed to have a solution, an honest but depressing truth.

It's easy to walk by someone homeless and judge them in one way or another. I try to remember, “there but by the grace of God go I.” I feel so blessed to have had a support system growing up. Many people now on Skid Row did not. The film does a good job of showing the complicated web of politics, human emotions and the lasting problems of addiction.

I feel a certain responsibility now that I live here. If we are honest with ourselves we must realize we all make harsh judgments and are prejudiced in some way. As difficult as it is to look at another viewpoint, it’s crucial if we truly want to build a better Downtown.

Skid Row is available via On Demand for those with Time Warner cable and via Netflix. Old Bank DVD says they'll have it in soon.

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