Two Oakland artists take on a massive mural in the city's downtown, only to find themselves at the center of the debate over gentrification and cultural resiliency.
“Alice Street” is a window into the intersection of cultural resiliency and the impacts of gentrification. The story revolves around two Oakland muralists, Pancho Peskador and Desi Mundo, who take on a commission to paint a series of walls in Oakland’s downtown. The artists decide to honor the history of two different cultures which intersect at the mural site – the Chinese-language community of the Hotel Oakland and the Afro-diasporic community centered around the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Performing Arts. As part of their creative process, they engage members of these communities, conducting interviews with culture-keepers and neighborhood residents which reveal a shared history of cultural resilience and resistance to displacement.
As the mural painting commences, the dynamic of these communities is further revealed. The mural has an overall positive impact on the neighborhood, one of Oakland’s most diverse demographically, yet one which is ground zero for the gentrification wave impacting the city. Tension arises in the form of internal dynamics among these communities, a neighborhood resident who is personally offended by the mural’s content, and the property owner of one of the walls, who plans to build a 37-story unit on the site. After the mural is completed with great fanfare and a vibrant celebration, the news comes that the owner of the parking lot in front of the mural has decided to develop the property, obscuring the mural which has become a symbol of cultural diversity and neighborhood identity.
Meanwhile, the larger community dialogue around gentrification coalesces into organized protest, as the city unveils its urban planning process for the downtown district. Despite a last-ditch attempt to oppose the development by community members, the proposal is approved by the city’s Planning Commission, effectively dooming the mural and threatening the Malonga Center’s livelihood. Life imitates art, as the historical theme of displacement depicted on the wall becomes its present reality. Ultimately, the mural becomes both a symbol of resistance to displacement and a victim of it. The documentary captures a city in transition, undergoing population and culture shift, raising important questions about the need to preserve and defend arts and culture, and whether it is even possible for historically-marginalized communities to stop the momentum of gentrification once it’s begun.