New Comedy Series Spotlights NYC’s Ever-Expanding Gentrification

‘Guap’ shows how rising rents in Washington Heights are driving away low-income families and their businesses.
(Image: Guap/Kickstarter)
Aug 16, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Gwendolyn Wu is an editorial intern at TakePart and a junior at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Home to $100 million apartments, separate building entrances for low-income tenants, and former mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan’s The Rent Is Too Damn High political party, New York City’s reputation as an expensive place to live is well earned. As trendy cafés replace bodegas and landlords price out lower-income residents of color, it’s also become known as a hotbed of gentrification.

Now Guap, a web series in development by New York City–based actor Chris Myers, is tackling the displacement of people in Upper Manhattan. Guap—the word is slang for “a lot of money”—bills itself on its Kickstarter page as a “quirky, character-driven indie comedy that dives into the rapid gentrification of Washington Heights, New York City,” where family-owned businesses are shuttering their doors because of skyrocketing rents.

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Born out of Myers’ contemplation of how money affects people’s lives, the series follows a Dominican American family that runs a restaurant in the neighborhood, which has historically been pegged as a crime hub.

“Our story is an investigation, and at the heart of Guap is the question ‘Who has a right to live in a neighborhood?’ ” Myers, director and producer of the show, says in the video on the Kickstarter page.

“Gentrification isn’t about cities or suburban environments—it’s about policy, finance, and social welfare,” Myers told TakePart. “It’s a great way to look at the health of a nation and how we deal with people who have been left out of the conversation and certain financial promises that’s part of the American project. It’s a nexus issue for so many things in America in 2016.”

Myers and producer Haley Rawson know that a comedy series won’t offer the same academic approach that articles and studies do, but they are prepared to give viewers the resources to act on it. “The idea is not to have anyone watch the pilot and feel necessarily enlightened but to feel inspired and perhaps become interested in learning more about gentrification that they didn’t know about before,” Rawson told TakePart.

The displacement of low-income black and Latino families and businesses in neighboring Harlem has been decried by longtime residents, and the changes in Brooklyn were documented in There Goes the Neighborhood, WNYC’s podcast on gentrification. Although The New York Times reported last year that grocery chains were pushing out family-owned bodegas in Washington Heights, the demographic changes happening in the predominantly Dominican American community are less well-known to national audiences.

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According to Myers, gentrification goes beyond an influx of hipster coffee shops. He says the way corporations move in and land is used is a nationwide issue that not only affects urban neighborhoods. In the Midwest, large companies trying to take over land parcels have sent small farmers scrambling to protect their assets and avoid getting priced out of affordable states.

Myers has heard from residents who have “seen the hip-hop wave, the drug wave, and this current wave of gentrification” and are keeping tabs on how the show will accurately reflect the neighborhood’s history and culture. Properly representing the community is important to Myers and Rawson. They're looking for a predominantly Dominican American and bilingual cast, especially actors from Washington Heights. As of Tuesday, the project’s Kickstarter campaign had exceeded its goal of raising nearly $20,000. Funds from the campaign, which ends Thursday, go toward equipment, postproduction, and paying actors.

“It’s not just another show about the same demographic that we always see. It’s something that people who are from the Heights and are Dominican can get excited about and perhaps inspire other projects and see themselves in it,” Rawson said. “Why we watch TV and movies in the first place is because we feel like we can relate to and see ourselves in it.”