Film Critic Elvis Mitchell's Day Off Is a Leisurely Walk of Crenshaw
He loves to see a movie, buy records, and more close to home.
By Kerensa Cadenas and Elvis Mitchell
Published on 11/21/2022 at 10:38 AM
Photo Courtesy of Elvis Mitchell
Film critic and writer Elvis Mitchell, known for his work in LA Weekly and the New York Times, didn't think that he would end up writing and directing a documentary on Black cinema. Initially, he thought it was going to be a book, but when director Steve McQueen told Mitchell it should be a documentary and director Steven Soderbergh asked him what he was doing with his career and offered to finance it, well, what's a guy supposed to do? The finished project, Is That Black Enough for You?!?, exists as both documentary and essay exploring the legacy of how Blaxploitation film impacted Black cinema and the film industry as a whole. Rich in its archival footage, cinema analysis, and sense of humor, Mitchell also interviews legendary Black artists like Billy Dee Williams and Harry Belafonte, the latter of whom for Mitchell was the equivalent of feeling like he was having a "stroke" while watching Belafonte film. For Mitchell, who has lived in Los Angeles for decades, his ideal day off begins with something most Angelinos wouldn't dare to do: walk.
My ideal day is walking, which is something that people in Los Angeles don't do. Once I was walking in LA from Beverly Boulevard around Larchmont and I had texts from director Barry Jenkins that said, "I thought I saw you out walking. Are you okay?" I'm like, "Yeah." So I will start to walk, and not far from me, there's the Crenshaw Mall, which is a subject of controversy because there's a rumor that these Russian oligarchs are going to buy it and turn it into a luxury hotel. Since I've been here in this part of the city, I've watched this slow conversion into something else, and this gentrification slowly sink in. When I first came to visit LA in the '80s, this was this really great, thriving neighborhood where there were all these auto dealerships, and now, near the Starbucks, there's a mall.
There's also this great breakfast place not far from me, this Japanese-Hawaiian place called Tak's where you can get all these terrific amalgams of Hawaiian, Japanese food, and American breakfast. That's one of the places I like to walk to.
Johnny's Pastrami | Photo by Stan Lee for Thrillist
“There's still something magical about getting the fry just right: not too crispy, the right amount of salt, fried in a little bit of olive oil. Oh man, it's ambrosia.”
I also like to walk to Hotville Chicken, which is related to Prince's Hot Chicken Shack and was one of the places at the beginning of the fried chicken boom here in LA. You get a really great idea of the balance of spices and pepper in the Hotville mix. The medium, you can really taste the ratchet up and the move from cayenne, which is a simple bang heat to something a little more complex. When you go to the hot, you'd only want three bites of that before you dial that final one and 911. It is hot, but it's flavorful, and to be able to define that difference between flavorful and just spicy, that Hotville does that with such artistry is the thrill to me. I get the chicken, the fries, a lemonade, and the cornbread. I'll go there and sit. It has diner hours, so it's open from like noon till nine.
There's a Hotville Chicken, Fatburger and a really great, little-out-of-the-way pizza place called Village Cafe & Pizza hidden in this mall that time forgot. You feel like you're passing through some kind of threshold into 1987. It's like when Bell Biv DeVoe still walked the earth. It's a place that's struggling, so please go and patronize that place.
Tartine | Photo by Stan Lee for Thrillist
On the other side of that mall, there's the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw movie theater that's been there forever. I remember in the '90s, it was a Magic Johnson theater where there used to be this trailer where Magic Johnson would walk you through the process of being in the theater.
I remember when Waiting to Exhale was opening in 1995, and I wanted to see it with an audience. I thought, Well, what better place to see it than the Magic Johnson theater? So I got there with a friend and we went opening day, and it was sold out for the entire weekend and there were people lined up to get into it. I didn't have a ticket, and I was standing in the lobby with my friend who was white, and Ken Lombard, who was then Magic Johnson's business partner, said, "Hey, I know you. How are you? What are you doing here?" I went, "Well, I'm not going to the movies because it's sold out." He goes, "Come with me." So we just walk in and he gives us seats. It was the first show, so there are women who are dressed up—they've got their dog-eared copies of the book, the soundtrack is playing, they're singing along to the Shoop song.
The lights go down to like 60%, because they never darkened the theater in the old Magic Johnson. Three trailers played—I'll never forget this—the first trailer was Girl 6, the second trailer was Independence Day, and the third trailer was Othello. There was this hush in the theater with all these Black women as Lawrence Fishburne leaned into Irène Jacob, and one woman said, "I know Larry Fishburne isn't about to kiss that white woman." At this point, I blurt it out because I'm stupid, "It's Othello!" at which point every head in the theater swivels towards me, so I just point to my white friend. And then the lights go down. That's why I have so much affection for that theater. I've been going there for a long time.
That's my day if I'm walking from my place, going to Crenshaw, and then going north, but if I'm walking north, I'll get to West Adams and turn left. Watching how Adams has changed so much, there's great restaurants and stuff there, but it's like seeing this interesting struggle between what it was and what gentrification is doing to it.
If I go one way, I could go to Johnny's Pastrami. There's one in West LA, but it's great to have one in my neighborhood because they make a terrific cheeseburger. I always love when you go to that rare deli that makes a really good cheeseburger because usually it's like, "I guess we got to do this because somebody likes these things. We don't like making them. Can we just put this on a bagel? We don't need a bun for a cheeseburger, do we?" So when a deli does make a great cheeseburger, I am there. And they do crinkle fries. There's still something magical about getting the fry just right: not too crispy, the right amount of salt, fried in a little bit of olive oil. Oh man, it's ambrosia.
High-Fidelity | Photo by Stan Lee for Thrillist
“If you go to record stores, you know there are two kinds of record stores: the kind where they think you're beneath contempt and they just talk to the other clerk, or where you go in and they recognize you and say, ‘Oh, you’re going to dig this because we just got a couple things in here.’”
As I'm walking west on West Adams, I hit High-Fidelity. My favorite time to go is a Thursday around noon because they usually get a pretty good selection of old school jazz vinyl. It's a really great store. The selection is very terrific and the prices aren't like, "You're buying records, you have to suffer." If you go to record stores, you know there are two kinds of record stores: the kind where they think you're beneath contempt and they just talk to the other clerk, or where you go in and they recognize you and say, "Oh, you're going to dig this because we just got a couple things in here." When they are pulling stuff out for you, "Let me go see what I got in the back that I think you're going to dig"—that's my idea of a great record store.
Then as I'm walking farther west, there's a bunch of great places to eat on Adams. In the last couple years in LA, we finally got Tartine, and now there are a few of them, like the one on Adams. I go in and say, "What's the seasonal muffin? Oh, it's still banana. Oh, my God, so bananas are always in season here in Los Angeles?" But they do just the greatest hand-turned croissant.
Places to Eat & Drink
3870 Crenshaw Blvd #101, Los Angeles
4070 Marlton Ave, Los Angeles
3710 W Martin Luther King Jr Blvd Suite 121, Los Angeles
4327 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles
Things to See & Do
3650 W Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Los Angeles
Cinemark Baldwin Hills Crenshaw
4020 Marlton Ave, Los Angeles
4765 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles
5335 W Adams Blvd Unit 104, Los Angeles