The producer of controversial HBO pilot called “Mogadishu, Minnesota” has secured conditional approval to film scene-setting shots at a Minneapolis public housing high-rise complex that’s home to many East African immigrants.
The board governing the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) on Wednesday directed its reluctant staff director to negotiate an agreement for filming — set to begin in just more than two weeks — as long as the resident council at the building signs off and any fees paid to the agency go to the council.
But it is unclear whether those conditions can be met. Elders at 1627 S. 6th St., one of four public housing buildings along Cedar Avenue known collectively as the Cedars, where HBO wants to shoot, listed several concerns last week. They include safety, security, impacts on daily activities, inconvenience and ability to access units.
HBO said it prefers to shoot hallways at the 1627 building and exterior shots of the complex, but would do interior shots off-site. It has budgeted three days, starting Oct. 12, for that filming.
But some activists of East African descent have raised fears that the Cedar-Riverside area will be depicted as a hotbed of terrorist recruitment. “What is the cost of MPHA blindly letting HBO portray us in this way?” asked student Ayaan Dahir.
But Cara Letofsky, a housing authority commissioner who has read a synopsis of the proposal, said it’s nothing more than the story of new immigrant cultures adjusting to a new country and experiencing intergenerational conflict. She’s one of the five attending MPHA commissioners who voted to direct Executive Director Cora McCorvey to negotiate with HBO.
“It feels really rushed,” McCorvey said. “Many of those residents do not want to see this occur and feel it would enhance stereotypes.”
Producer Jonathan Filley said that he’s considering using the Charles Horn Towers on W. 31st Street as a backup location for filming if the Cedars prove unwelcoming. He earlier approached Riverside Plaza in Cedar-Riverside about filming, but proprietor George Sherman said he was distrusts fictionalizing a culture’s experience. He said he’d welcome a documentary.
Filley emphasized the economic effects of his planned 13 days of shooting in the area. A spokesman for Mayor Betsy Hodges said that’s one reason that she supports the production and asked housing board Chairman F. Clayton Tyler to make it a last-minute addition to the board agenda.
Council Member Abdi Warsame, whose ward includes Cedar-Riverside, also urged approval.
“It’s a big production,” he said. “It can create a lot of jobs, especially for young people.”