South LA youth attend early screening of ‘Pacific Rim’ with theGrio

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Attention all: the apocalypse has officially been cancelled in the new sci-fi flick Pacific Rim, and those who witnessed the fantastical brush with fate were left astounded.

On Monday, theGrio invited 10 students from the Youth Opportunities Movement in South Los Angeles (YO! Watts) to attend an early, private screening of the blockbuster film with director Guillermo del Toro, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

The filmmaker introduced his latest project and described the influence Japanese cultural artistry had on his own childhood.

From the advent of the anime movement, del Toro explained how his fascination with animation and tyrannical creatures led him to the idea of inventing one of the most colossal battles ever to be seen in cinema.

“I grew up with an invasion of Japanese pulp in Mexico,” the 48-year-old explained to the audience, which primarily included youth from around the city. “I was born basically at the cusp of the Kaiju monster movie movement in Japan, and more or less a couple years apart from the real beginning of the mecha genre in Japanese anime, which is giant robots.”

A monster movie for kids

Set in a time where man cannot defeat beast with his hands alone, Pacific Rim ravages the Earth’s surface with the reincarnated spawn of dinosaurs.

In order to preserve space on the planet, human armies inhabit 25-story high robots to fight against 25-story high monsters, which are breeding and emerging from the ocean’s floor.

“The idea of a Kaiju movie has now become a case of either nostalgia or sort of postmodern nihilism,” del Toro said. “People were looking at them with different eyes than as I saw them as a kid. I decided to make a family movie that hopefully will make children’s brains explode, and it will reintroduce the kids to why or how it felt for me to see the spectacle un-ironically, completely in awe.”

Youth in South L.A. get first glimpse

As requested by del Toro, students from YO! Watts joined the filmmaker to the early screening of the movie, which stars actor Idris Elba and opens nationwide on Friday.

YO! Watts is a youth program located in the Watts district of South L.A., and aims to guide underprivileged teens in the areas of education, employment and training. It serves youth who are looking for additional academic aid, who were unsuccessful in local schools, or who were incarcerated.

By offering life skills, career opportunities, health care, after school activities, and mentorship, the organization responds to the consistent need for supportive services in the area.

“It’s really providing a vehicle where they can navigate the opportunities that are out there for them,” Martin Flores, the program’s Executive Director, explained. “Most importantly, it’s a safe space…It’s a location where young people have a place where they can reconnect, reengage in a positive setting.”

As creative exhibition influenced a young del Toro, the arts similarly provide passion and escapism for youth within this community, something Flores says he finds important.

He believes film, music, and other art forms are particularly “valuable” to the psyche.

“It distracts the mind from other things that may be going on in their lives,” noted Flores. “Arts are a beautiful way to keep ourselves healthy mentally and it’s a way to express the talents that our young people have. It provides that avenue for young people to explore – whether they want to explore it on a full-time basis as a career, or they want to just explore in a social place such as coming to [the movie theater].”

Hector Hernandez, IT coordinator for YO! Watts and former participant in the program, attests to the difference it made in setting him on a beneficial path.

“It’s either you’re going to be in the streets doing not positive things, or you’re going to go this route and stay out of trouble,” he recalled. “A lot of my friends didn’t choose to go with me, they chose to go the other route and now they’re incarcerated or not around. They’re just struggling. Me, I’ve met so many mentors, and so many peers and so many people that were great influence in my life and pushed me.”

Watching a ‘spectacle’ like no other

Both the youth and mentors from the program attended the screening, and as del Toro put it, were asked to behold an “insane movie,” creating a “spectacle” unlike any other.

Not only does Pacific Rim feature large-scale 3-D battle scenes, it intimates a nuanced discussion about the degree to which human physical and mental capacity will prevail in the pendulum of time.

“It was just awesome,” Delores Lewis of YO! Watts said after the film. “That’s how realistically it would be if monsters came out. We’d have to fight when we could and then get the better equipment and make adjustments. The different flashes of world leaders at the beginning, I really enjoyed too. My friends and I have this joke that Obama’s not only having to deal with problems of this century, but last century…Now, he has to deal with futuristic stuff, so I like watching things like that in this movie.”

Follow Courtney Garcia on Twitter at @courtgarcia