Peter Bratt’s “Dolores”: A Look At A Civil Rights Superhero

DOLORES Opens in Los Angeles at the Nuart on September 8th and Runs Through The 14t

Fri 9/8, 5:00pm – Dolores Huerta and Peter Bratt in-person

Fri 9/8, 7:30pm – Dolores Huerta, Peter Bratt and Carlos Santana in-person
Moderated by Martin Sheen
Introduced by Andrew Russell, President & CEO (PBS SoCal)

Director Peter Bratt

By Bel Hernandez

“I always wanted to make a movie about a superhero,” said Peter Bratt (La Mission, Follow Me Home) , director of PBS’s documentary Dolores about activist and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta.   An equal partner in co-founding the first farm workers unions with Cesar Chavez (the UVW union), Huerta’s enormous contributions have largely gone unrecognized.  Bratt’s highly anticipated documentary sets the record straight revealing Huerta’s life, her contribution to America’s civil rights history and the choices she mad when it came to her family Dolores opened September 1st in New York with the highest per-screen average of any movie that weekend.  In Los Angeles, Dolores premieres at the Nuart on September 8th.

A non-traditional woman of the 60’s in a man’s world, her cause was fighting for justice and for the underdog. Her work has impacted the lives of thousands of farmworkers across the U.S. and continues to do so through her Dolores Huerta Foundation.  Through her work he has garnered the respect of the late Robert Kennedy, feminist leader Gloria Steinem, Black activist Angela Davis, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Former speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and President Barack Obama.

Her contributions to the UFW, civil rights and her legislative skills have not been included in narrative of civil rights.   The fact that her story goes unrecognized says Bratt, is an “erasure from the historical record”, which he believes to be a deliberate move.

Music legend Carlos Santana was the catalyst for the documentary, which he executive produced.  He called Bratt out of the blue about five years ago with an urgency that it was time to tell the world about Dolores Huerta.  Bratt was honored to have been invited to do the story of a woman whom he had marched along with on UFW marches as a young boy.  A woman who in 2009 had selflessly helped him promote his feature La Mission by traveling with him to various screenings, believing in the importance of getting a diversity of Latino stories to the masses.

Courtesy of: Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs Wayne State University

Bratt felt he would not only present the courageous iconic figure, with a list of her triumphs, but also felt he wanted to show a complete view of this woman the human being, warts and all.  This perspective is what makes Dolores unique.  In an almost invasive journey into Dolores’ personal life, it makes for compelling storytelling. As one watches there is a range of emotions.  As a U.S. citizen you feel the sense of history, as a Latina/o you feel proud, as a woman you feel empowered, and as a mother you feel the pain for her and her children who gave up so much of their mother for a cause which they, in retrospect say was much bigger than any of them.

At the heart of Dolores’ upbringing was a sense of feminism (although she did not realize it at the time), and it is what propelled her to take the path she did.  She went from being a upwardly mobile housewife to a tireless crusader.  Her father Juan Fernández was a union activist who ran for political office and won a seat in the New Mexico legislature in 1938.  Her parents divorced when Dolores was three and she was raised by her mother Alicia Chávez, a single parent, who owned a 70 room hotel where she catered to low-income families and farmworkers.  Dolores would not fully embrace her feminism until years later after she spent time with Gloria Steinem during her organizing of the grape boycott in NY.

Dolores found her calling as an organizer while serving in the leadership of the Stockton Community Service Organization (CSO) where she was mentored by founder Fred Ross, Sr. During this time, she founded the Agricultural Workers Association, set up voter registration drives and pressed local governments for barrio improvements.  Ross would eventually introduce Dolores to CSO Executive Director César E. Chávez.

In preparation for the documentary, Bratt interviewed farm workers, scholars, politicians, feminists, labor historians, and 10 of her 11 biological children.  To the delight of the audience, the documentary includes never-before-seen collection of personal memories, historical documentation and compelling first-person narrative. Dolores Huerta emerges as more than just a footnote to 20th century America – she proves to be a true American hero. And like many great figures held in an equally high regard, she is also revealed to be utterly mortal, a woman whose unconventional choices and personal sacrifices expose her humanity. 

Dolores opened on Sept. 1st in New York at the IFC Center with the highest per-screen average at $14,125 for the weekend.

Peter Bratt’s documentary reveals a true civil rights hero, and although Dolores was left out of most of the history, her story and contributions to the success of the UFW and civil rights in general, can no longer be disregarded.  To quote Dolores’ most famous saying “Si Se Puede” which was even appropriated by presidential candidate and eventually President Barack Obama as “Yes, we can”, “Si Se Puede” a mantra which has served Dolores well and inspired millions.

Connect with Dolores on

Twitter: @Dolores_Movie


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