Estevan Oriol’s 8 key lowrider moments in pop films and TV

Estevan Oriol, art photographer and director of the Netflix documentary “LA Originals,” has been an influential behind-the-scenes figure in the mainstreaming of lowriders. For the public, he says, the archetype of a lowrider is a 1964 Impala. Indeed, that’s the car you see in many lowrider pop culture moments.

“It’s the most commonly known lowrider to people outside of the culture,” he says. We asked Oriol — himself an owner of a 1964 Impala he calls Blue Velvet — for a few key examples of lowriders popping into the mainstream.

1. The opening credits sequence of the 1974-78 television series “Chico and the Man” starring Freddie Prinze is an Oriol favorite. It features footage of the “most famous lowrider in the world,” Gypsy Rose, the 1964 Impala that in 2017 was inducted into the National Historic Vehicle Register. “To me ‘Chico and the Man’ has the coolest B-roll footage of what L.A. and East L.A. lowriding was like in the ’70s,” Oriol says. (DVD only)

undated handout photo of Freddie Prinze, from Chico and the Man. Chico and the Man debuted in 1974 on NBC.

Freddie Prinze in “Chico and the Man.”

(Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.)

2. The character Big Worm (Faizon Love) in the 1995 film “Friday,” Oriol notes, drives an orange 1961 convertible Impala. The real car is “called Fresh Squeezed,” he says. “I’ve shot it in Japan, I’ve shot it here.”(Direct TV, Amazon Prime)

3. Though panned by some critics, the 2017 film “Lowriders,” directed by Ricardo de Montreuil and starring Gabriel Chavarria and Demián Bichir, is a standout moment for the subculture in mass media, says Oriol. It should be noted that Oriol executive produced and consulted for the film. “We got a lot of what we wanted with the cars, the locations,” he says. (Amazon Prime, YouTube)

Gabriel Chavarria  and Demian Bichir  in "Lowriders." Credit: Justin Lubin / Universal Pictures

Gabriel Chavarria as Danny Alvarez and Demian Bichir as Miguel Alvarez in “Lowriders.”

(Universal Pictures)

4. Lowriders abound in the 1996 female heist classic “Set It Off.” But when Cleo (Queen Latifah), in a climactic moment in an Impala, charges against police officers with guns drawn, Oriol says, putting such a special car at risk of bullet damage “is the dumbest s— in the world.” (BET+)

Queen Latifah in "Set It Off."

Queen Latifah in “Set It Off.”

(New Line Cinema)

5. Plenty of dropped vehicles are featured in “Mi Vida Loca,” the 1993 cult chola coming-of-age drama set in Echo Park. “They had the mini trucks in there,” Oriol says, noting a dropped green truck with hydraulics and a mural piece in the opening sequence that later becomes a plot device. (DVD only)

6. In the 1978 stoner classic “Up in Smoke,” Cheech (Cheech Marin) is introduced to the tune of the 1975 hit song by War, “Low Rider,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts. It’s a comical moment. “It wasn’t done up, but that’s the look they’re going for, the primer look,” Oriol says. “And he’s wiping it down like it’s got a candy paint job on it.” (Amazon Prime)

1978 photo movie still from Richard (Cheech) Marin, left, and Tommy Chong in movie "Up In Smoke"

Cheech Marin, left, and Tommy Chong in “Up In Smoke.”

(Paramount Pictures)

7. Don’t forget the Bay Area, Oriol says. In the 2009 film “La Mission,” Benjamin Bratt plays a San Francisco lowrider named Che Rivera. “He had that old-school bomb, that ’47 or ’48 Fleetline.” (Tubi)

8. And, of course, there’s “Boulevard Nights,” the classic barrio drama from 1979. The film lovingly depicts the height of cruising on Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles in the 1970s. “That was the most historical [film],” Oriol says, “and focused mostly on the lowriders.” (Amazon Prime)

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