Marine Francoise Lanctuit Brings Her Light to Oakland, Eastside Story

Hollywood’s film industry takes a lot of flak but for more than a century it has been entertaining people around the world with its creations. Even beyond entertaining us, these productions inform and inspire. We learn about the lives of others much different from our own. As aggrandizing as it may sound, this makes the world a more aware and hopefully kinder place. While many are involved, none are so visible as the actors who appear in these films. Much like us, the characters they portray have led different paths but these actors connect with them in a way that resonates with audiences everywhere. Marine Francoise Lanctuit may be from Paris but she is completely authentic as an Oakland social worker named Maria in the Oscar Hernandez film Oakland, Eastside Story. The rough area of Oakland in this northern Californian city is far different from Paris but the opportunity to be a part of this intense and heart-gripping film had the French actress immersing herself in the environment. What could sadly be set in current day conflict is actually the 1980’s in this film, which is likely the point Hernandez is driving home; by becoming aware of problems now is how we alter the future and make it better for all.

Oakland, Eastside Story has already been recognized as an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival and SoCal Independent Film Festival. This narrative short is inspired by the filmmaker’s own childhood. The story depicts the loss of innocence in 1980s Oakland, California during a period of racial tension between the Mexican and Black communities; a serious problem still plaguing cities like Oakland and Los Angeles. Two childhood friends take very different paths. Alonzo, a young Mexican-American boy is a sensitive dreamer who aspires to a better life and uses his camera to document the increasing violence of his neighborhood. The other youth, Juvon, becomes increasingly immersed in a world of drugs and crime presented to him with ease by the city. Producer, writer and director Hernandez is known for his work on big budget actions films like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor but here he brings a sweetness to the drama and action. A great portion of this comes courtesy of Lanctuit’s Maria. The daughter of a French/ Spanish immigrant family, Maria is a social worker at the local community center. She meets Alonzo and relates to his struggle against the environment. They find a harmony in their admiration and pursuit of creative expression. Maria not only sees herself in Alonzo but also the hope for him and his peers. This resonates with Alonzo who sees in Maria the opportunity to not define himself as a drug dealer, prostitute, or any type of criminal. She offers Alonzo the belief that there is a way out of his situation if he perseveres with his dream.

Maria is essentially the fulcrum of the film. This is the pivotal role which allows Alonzo to make a choice in a situation that, at least for the time being, seems hopeless. He sees the light and good possible in the world in Maria and wants to become part of it. Lanctuit confirms that the role was not only one which offered her expression but also one which she felt was important. The actress relates, “Maria is dedicated to her work. She doesn’t do it for the money. Even though she’s still young, she knows the children in her program represent the future. That’s why it is so SO IMPORTANT to have someone who deeply and unconditionally believes in you; who infuses in you that confidence. The confidence you need to empower you in life. In fact, the people who make it in the acting world are not necessarily the ones who are the most talented but rather the ones who have the confidence to carry them through the challenges that you undeniably face. I admire so much the work that social workers, activists and NGO do. In a world that is so polarized, it is very very important to have something to counterbalance inequalities. When I have the opportunity to inspire by telling an important story, I think it’s amazing! That’s what makes you want to be an actor as the first place.”

Author: Kelly King

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