A long-overdue look at a pioneering activist, the new documentary Dolores is first and foremost an homage to Dolores Huerta, who at the ripe age of 87 seems just as vivacious as she was at 25. But it is also, says director Peter Bratt, a political act.
“Film controls the narrative, which ones are pushed and which are left out,” says Bratt, a UCSC alum. “That’s one reason why I was inspired to be a content creator as a person of color, was to challenge media in that way. It’s these critical, important and beautiful voices and stories that make up this country’s complex history, and as far as I’m concerned, there is room for them all.”
Huerta is a co-founder of the first successful farm workers union, United Farm Workers (UFW). She was a chief organizer and negotiator of the 1965 Delano grape strike—the first time workers successfully negotiated a contract with an agricultural enterprise. She popularized the slogan “Si, Se Puede” and was a pioneering advocate for farmworkers rights at a time when many aimed to keep women and people of color out of politics.
Dolores follows Huerta’s journey as an activist from her late teens to her split from the UFW. It pits the voices of her supporters, Barack Obama and Bobby Kennedy among them, against Richard Nixon, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly.
Like Huerta, Dolores has something to prove. It’s Bratt’s first go-round at a documentary about a woman that he has a deeply rooted respect for, and who was an icon in the Latino community he grew up in. No pressure, right? He admits it was daunting in more ways than one, not only because she is considered a living legend, but also because of the surprising lack of knowledge and perspective that younger generations have of her achievements. The question, he says, became: “How do we engage an entire generation and introduce them to Dolores and her work, especially when you are competing with so many other platforms like social media?”
Co-produced and backed by Carlos Santana, the film is an unintentionally timely response to the current political climate. Dolores first screened at the Sundance Film Festival on President Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day—where, Bratt recalls, the energy was less than effervescent, despite its ensuing 20-minute standing ovation.
“A lot of people are down. They feel like, ‘What’s the use? My voice doesn’t matter, my votes don’t count,’” he says. “Being around Dolores made me remember that people still have power. People can come together and create change, no matter how bad it gets.”
Dolores is the result of months of archive-combing for clips and photographs spanning seven decades. Though it is celebratory of her life, it doesn’t put her on a pedestal. It follows the hardships of her children, who were scarred from the years their mother spent away following her own path. It acknowledges that to this day, Cesar Chavez often gets more credit than she does for co-creating the UFW, and in spite of her accomplishments, she often still isn’t taken seriously.
Bratt says he was also inspired by Huerta’s love of music and dance—she wanted to be a professional dancer. In the film, Angela Davis poetically points out that in a way, she was a dancer “on the stage of justice.”
In retrospect, Dolores begins the same way it ends—with a story of hope followed by a modern take on injustices still happening today, framed by some really fantastic music. She was a figure beyond her time facing a society that was not ready for female leadership, or really women outside of the traditional boundaries of home.
If she prevailed, in spite of everything, then maybe we will, too.
Dolores will screen at the Del Mar beginning 9/16. Tickets available at landmarktheatres.com.