By James Lacombe
Is it just a tribute to a famous movie, or something more?
A mural painted on the outside of the A&M Grocery Store, 1228 39th St. in Galveston, depicting a burning city and characters from the movie “Planet of the Apes” is being interpreted by some as having negative racial overtones, especially considering the civil unrest occurring around the country.
“It just doesn’t send a positive message, to me,” Galveston resident Curt Gillins said. “Some say they’re not offended by it, some say they are, but I’m definitely offended by it.”
Gillins, who frequents the store, protested outside the business over the mural Sunday, he said.
A&M Grocery Store owner Moe Layegh said he didn’t know what the artists were painting this weekend or that it might be perceived as offensive. The store’s outer walls long have been canvasses for artists and are adorned with ever-changing bright murals.
Layegh on Monday was considering bringing the artist back to paint a different mural, he said.
“I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings,” Layegh said.
Gillins said Layegh should have inquired about what the artist had planned.
“He should’ve asked, ‘What are you painting? I don’t want anything that will hurt my business,’” Gillins said. “I don’t want to see him closed down. I want him to think about the consequences of a negative mural.”
Complaints about the mural, painted by two out-of-town artists over the weekend, in the predominantly African-American neighborhood also were reported to the Galveston County Coalition for Justice. And there was a small demonstration against it, coalition founder Tarris Woods said.
“It’s offensive to the community, and they want it down,” Woods said. “I wouldn’t think he’d want his customers upset.”
The history of the “Planet of the Apes” movie being offensive to Black people dates all the way back to the original film’s release in 1968, which was boycotted by the NAACP, Woods said.
“They felt like it was an insult and that it was racist at that particular time 52 years ago, and we feel the same way 52 years later,” Woods said.
Others don’t see a problem with the mural. One woman, as she left A&M Grocery Store on Monday exclaimed, “That’s a beautiful painting.”
Leon Phillips, who heads the Galveston Coalition for Justice, which is not affiliated with Woods’ organization, said the racism some see in the mural simply isn’t there.
“My eyes saw a mural of a scene from ‘Planet of the Apes,’ and if you look at the three apes that are on there and you go back and look at the movie, it’s the same faces,” Phillips said. “Where anybody else got off finding that had a depiction of Black people in America burning cities is the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
There are greater problems in the community than a mural, and time and energy should be directed down other avenues, Phillips said.
“Using your time on things that are just opinionated has nothing to do with the dollars that are spent in your community,” Phillips said. “That’s where my focus is.”
Those who see the negative reaction to the mural as an overreaction shouldn’t underestimate the power of art to make a statement, local historian Sam Collins III said.
The problems are proximity and timing, Collins said. The mural is in an African-American neighborhood and went up during a time of heightened racial tension, he said.
“People may say that’s a reach,” he said. “Well, if you look at historically some of the things that have been done with art and other issues of imagery, it’s not out of the box to think this could have been intentional. Now, hopefully, it was just coincidental with the timing, and he didn’t realize it.”
Those who would like to see the mural changed offered less violent and less problematic suggestions. Gillins thought a painting of local wildlife would be nice, while Collins suggested highlighting a different movie — “Black Panther,” which features Black characters in positive and heroic roles and takes place in the technologically advanced fictional African nation of Wakanda.
“If he takes it down and paints Black Panther, I’ll probably be the first one in there to buy a bottle of Gatorade or something,” Collins said.