OAKLAND — An HBO drama that would examine the world of prostitution in Oakland has come under fire from Mayor Ron Dellums and other city officials even before filming has started.
The show, called "Gentlemen of Leisure" and based on the 1999 documentary "American Pimp," would be set in Oakland and would focus on a pimp in his 40s and his attempts to get out of the business.
The show's production, slated to begin in 2009, could be an economic boon for the city, which has made efforts to bring in more filmmakers, but officials such as Dellums worry about what impact the show would have on Oakland's image.
"It is the mayor's view that this project goes against our vision of Oakland as a 'model city' and does a disservice to residents and visitors alike," Dellums' chief of staff, David Chai, said Saturday. "While the mayor understands that there are certain benefits to having a major film project in our city, he is not willing to support this project at this time. The people of Oakland have come too far to have our city's name trampled upon in the name of entertainment."
The mayor's office is open to further talks between the city and HBO, Chai said.
Neither Polly Anthony, the show's executive producer, nor HBO communications executives in New York could be reached Saturday for a response. The mayor has not previously weighed in publicly about the show. No permits have been issued for filming and it's not clear what city officials might do to stop the HBO project from going forward.
People involved — including Anthony and screenwriter Evan Reilly — have made extensive efforts to get the city on board, a Dec. 19 memo written by Ami Zins, the city's film coordinator, suggests.
In the memo, Zins said she shared concerns over how the show might affect Oakland's image, though she ultimately concluded Oakland stood to gain from it. She noted the positive impact the HBO show The Wire had for tourism and the economy in Baltimore.
"'Gentlemen' will be set in Oakland, and Ms. Anthony's intent is to film the entire series in Oakland, primarily on location," Zins wrote. "Oakland will be identified as the city in which the story takes place, and will be featured as a character unto itself as a city with a great diversity of people, culture, arts, architecture and geography. Characters and locations depicted in the series would represent a wide spectrum of those found in Oakland."
Reilly, the writer, told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview last summer the show is about a pimp "who wants to get out but keeps getting sucked back in by the allure of the game and by extraneous circumstances that have to do with his family."
It's a plot line that doesn't interest City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale) in the least.
"I think it will be, in my opinion, another black eye, another bad national story for Oakland," he said. "We don't need that. They can go do it in some other city, not in Oakland."
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