‘Dolores’ salutes a so­cial jus­tice pi­o­neer

Pawtucket Times - - FILM - By LORA GRADY

It's tempt­ing to frame the ca­reer of so­cialjus­tice pi­o­neer Dolores Huerta in the con­text of her part­ner­ship with Ce­sar Chavez, with whom she founded the United Farm Work­ers of Amer­ica. Tempt­ing, but wrong, as ar­gued in "Dolores," a new doc­u­men­tary that spot­lights her cen­tral role, out­side of the la­bor leader's shadow, in the fight for work­ers' rights.

De­spite a life de­voted to grass-roots or­ga­niz­ing that ul­ti­mately saw her shar­ing the stage with Barack Obama as a 2012 Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom win­ner, Huerta's con­tri­bu­tions have re­mained some­thing of a foot­note. But with this kalei­do­scopic ret­ro­spec­tive of Huerta's life and ca­reer, film­maker Peter Bratt un­der­scores her vi­tal con­tri­bu­tions, plac­ing them on a par with those of other, bet­ter­known cham­pi­ons of the worker.

"Dolores" il­lus­trates Huerta's life with archival and con­tem­po­rary news footage, sup­ple­mented by peer tes­ti­mo­ni­als and the rec­ol­lec­tions of fam­ily mem­bers. Wo­ven to­gether, th­ese threads form a com­pelling por­trait: Grow­ing up among Latino farmhands in Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia, Huerta de­vel­oped a so­cial con­science early, fight­ing for work­ers' rights even at the ex­pense of per­sonal re­la­tion­ships. Sev­eral of Huerta's 11 chil­dren speak about the neg­a­tive im­pact of her long ab­sences — al­though they also say that she in­spired them to take up so­cial jus­tice ca­reers of their own.

Their can­dor is echoed in Huerta's frank­ness about how her work af­fected her mar­riages and later ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship with Chavez's brother Richard, ad­mis­sions that help hu­man­ize this fiery, larger-than-life fig­ure. We see Huerta tak­ing on the Team­sters; or­ga­niz­ing the grape boy­cott of the late 1960s; and shar­ing the stage with Robert F. Kennedy. Al­though we don't of­ten think about the sac­ri­fices made by those who oc­cupy the world stage, "Dolores" re­veals the ef­fects of its sub­ject's choices, on a per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal level.

The film cap­tures Huerta's in­fec­tious en­ergy — en­ergy that changed the lives of the "worst paid work­ers on the planet," as one of the film's sub­jects de­scribes farm la­bor­ers. But her in­flu­ence goes well be­yond that work, as ev­i­denced by An­gela Davis, Glo­ria Steinem and oth­ers, who note that Huerta made it ac­cept­able for women to join picket lines, to demon­strate and, more gen­er­ally, to make their voices heard. It was Huerta's gen­der, the film ar­gues, that kept her from be­ing cred­ited as Chavez's equal.

"Dolores" is a fas­ci­nat­ing cor­rec­tive to 50plus years of Amer­i­can his­tory. It's ed­u­ca­tional, to be sure, but also ex­hil­a­rat­ing, in­spir­ing and deeply emo­tional. As the film makes clear, Huerta has ac­com­plished much and, at 87, con­tin­ues to live by the words of the now­fa­mous phrase she orig­i­nated: Sí se puede — yes, we can.

Three and one-half stars. Un­rated. Con­tains footage of po­lice bru­tal­ity, the Robert Kennedy as­sas­si­na­tion and chil­dren with med­i­cal de­for­mi­ties. In English and Span­ish with sub­ti­tles. 97 min­utes.

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