New film will highlight one of Oakland's old car cultures
'Falcon Boys' show off their skills in remodeling, and often
rebuilding, their rides in 'Ghetto Fabulous'
OAKLAND — Kenny McElroy fixes cars, but he's especially proud of his
refurbished 1969 maroon and white Ford Falcon.
"Back in 1984, I knew some 'Falcon Boys' on Birch Street in East
Oakland. I liked this black-and-white two-tone Falcon. I would ride
with them and get lots of attention.
"In those days, guys would put Cadillac seats in Falcons so they were
called 'Baby Sevilles' (Cadillacs). That's all they could afford."
Stylin' and profilin' in the'hood — with limited disposable dollars —
is common, and in street parlance it's called "ghetto fabulous."
Ford Motor Co. stopped making Falcons in 1970. However, the city's
dozen Falcon Boys have caught the eye and lens of North Oakland
filmmaker Brian Lilla, who became intrigued over a six-year period
with neighbor Dave Johnson's unbridled passion for a recycled and now
regal 1968 Falcon.
Lilla decided to make a documentary. The result, "Ghetto Fabulous"
premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday at the Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand
It's the story of the lives and loves of Falcon Boys who converted
"buckets" (old cars) purchased for $200 in the late 1970s into
gleaming "rides" that have drawn $20,000 to $30,000.
"These guys are more than their cars," said Lilla, 36. "They are smart
but they are also struggling ... they are talented but they don't have
opportunities to show it. Everyone has a story to tell."
In the beginning it was a challenge for Lilla to start filming.
Seeing a video camera in some black neighborhoods made residents
uneasy. One Falcon Boy, Marvin Brooke, was killed in 2003 when he was
robbed in front of his home. The fact that Lilla is white added a
layer of suspicion.
However, Johnson, who is African American, and other Falcon Boys
gradually warmed up to the documentary and became escorts — Lilla's
passport to the streets for more insight and interviews with "M.G."
"P.R." and "T.J." The project began in August 2004 and was done by
Johnson's Falcon roots also go back to the early 1980s.
"We were teenagers when we saw the original Falcon Boys around
96th Avenue and Birch Street in East Oakland. Now we are giving them
respect, standing on their shoulders, by carrying on.
"I've put thousands of dollars into this car. When we drive our
Falcons we get so much attention, even from people in very nice cars
... we feel like celebrities."
Johnson, who plans to attend a National Falcon Car Club Convention set
for July in San Ramon, said he has found a hobby for life.
"I have been restoring my car for 15 years now, but I don't see it as
just a Falcon," said Johnson. "When it shines ... it's like a Rolls
Royce. These cars take us back to when we were coming up in Oakland."
Lilla convinced Johnson to participate in the documentary after making
a short video Johnson liked.
"We might live in the ghetto but these cars make us feel ghetto
fabulous," Johnson told Lilla.
Wood Gaines, another group member, desperately wanted a convertible or
"drop top" so he removed his white Falcon's roof. Then, to give it a
European look, "I removed the steering wheel from the left side and
installed in on the right side," he said.
The search for car parts is endless. "You have to look hard," said
McElroy. "There were some in Wisconsin. But then we found some in
Sacramento ... they have some Falcon Boys in Sacramento, East Palo
Alto and Stockton."
Lilla said Oakland's Falcon Boys in the early 1980s were "the
originals" and Oakland's first real car club. Peaceful parking lot
show-off gatherings would evolve into infamous "sideshows" by others.
It took Lilla more than a year to finish the hour-long film, which is
now on the independent film circuit — including a screening at the
Independent Black Film Festival in Atlanta this month.