After a year in Santa Ana’s downtown, The Frida Cinema is working to not only bring eclectic, niche and classic films to Orange County residents who would otherwise have to journey to Los Angeles for their cinephile kicks, but also to build bridges with Santa Ana youth and community organizations through cultural initiatives.
Founder Logan Crow hopes to position The Frida as a safe space for all area residents interested in culture, from LGBT youth to Santa Ana’s historically strong Latino population.
“It’s personally important to me [to create an open, accessible space], because I’m Latino and gay -- part of a couple of groups which often feel disenfranchised,” said Crow, who is fluent in Spanish and of Nicaraguan heritage.
Crow hopes the theater will embody some of the ideals of its namesake.
“Frida Kahlo was a revolutionary figure, who refused to let any of the countless challenges she faced in her life impact her negatively,” said Crow. “Beyond her own amazing art, she was a fighter for the arts and freedom of expression.”
“We labored over what to call the theater for months before it suddenly clicked one night,” he said.
Notable efforts so far include: a screening of the movie “Pride” to celebrate the opening of a new LGBT satellite center near the theater; a partnership with Orange Coast College Film Club to bring student and member films to the big screen; and a screening of the biopic “Selena” on the anniversary of the famous tejano singer’s death to benefit Decolores Queer OC, a local queer Latino community organization.
The “Selena” screening even sold out, bringing a crowd of over 200 people to the theater on a Tuesday night. Funds raised from the event supported the organization’s Reyes Scholarship, established to provide financial support for transgendered youth after the tragic murder of Zoraida Reyes, one of Decolores founding members.
Funds will also be used to provide local schools’ Gay-Straight Alliance chapters with the means to create their own t-shirts, in an effort to increase LGBT visibility.
“I’m not sure many places would have opened their doors to as many people for a Latino queer organization, and we aren’t the first community organization [Crow] has opened his doors to,” said Patty Malagon, a volunteer with Decolores who helped to organize the event, which also featured a drag show.
“It was our most successful fundraiser yet,” she added.
Last weekend The Frida also held stagings of Eve Ensler’s famous feminist play, “The Vagina Monologues,” in both English and Spanish to raise awareness surrounding gendered violence and sexual assault. In this case, 100 percent of the proceeds went to sexual assault programs and services offered by the Community Service Program, a nonprofit serving victims of violence.
“The concept of such a revolutionary play being played in Santa Ana in Spanish was huge for me,” said Crow. “But the challenge was twofold. First, we had to get the word out. Second, the play’s name reads controversially for some conservative Latinas who could stand to benefit most from its message.”
Despite these obstacles, the staging was a success, nearly selling out.
“We were excited to have members of the Spanish speaking community experience culture and invest in a non-profit organization that works on the treatment of domestic abuse and sexual assault,” Crow said.
This attitude has guided Crow’s approach to navigating the controversy surrounding downtown Santa Ana’s perceived rapid gentrification, in general.
“I think part of every organization’s role when serving the community is to be mindful and respectful of that community’s history and various interests,” said Crow. “I like to use film as a catalyst to raise awareness and program creatively. We want to promote what we have going on, but we also want to advertise what’s going on around us.”
“That’s part of what our job needs to be,” he added. “Let’s use our outreach to help build up and expand our community.”
Despite these recent successes, Crow continues to face the financial realities of operating a non-profit art theater. This means occasionally facing an empty screening room and $2,000 monthly electricity bills. Crow, however, refuses to accept the myth that there isn’t an audience for art cinema in Orange County.
“People have this perception of Orange County as this conservative backwater,” said Crow. “But there are funky, cool people who want culture and to be stimulated and surprised and educated in every corner of the world.”
Josh Yeager is a student in UC Irvine’s Literary Jounalism program