SDSU-IV to screen ‘Brown Buf­falo’ doc­u­men­tary

Imperial Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY JULIO MORALES Staff Writer

CALEXICO — The pub­lic is in­vited to at­tend the screen­ing of “The Rise and Fall of the Brown Buf­falo,” a film about the life of iconic Chi­cano at­tor­ney, ac­tivist and author Os­car Zeta Acosta, on Thurs­day at San Diego State Univer­sity-Im­pe­rial Val­ley.

The screen­ing will be pre­ceded by a re­cep­tion with com­pli­men­tary tacos and bev­er­ages and fol­lowed by a discussion with Los An­ge­les-based writer and di­rec­tor Phillip Ro­driguez.

Ro­driguez said he’s made it a point to at­tend screen­ings for his re­cently re­leased film, and has been en­cour­aged by its re­cep­tion among younger au­di­ences who typ­i­cally aren’t in­clined to­ward his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­taries.

“It’s good for the kids of to­day, and I’m re­ally happy about that,” Ro­driguez said. “Os­car spoke to them.”

In his own words, Acosta also makes it clear to the film’s au­di­ences of his life’s pur­pose: to un­der­mine the racial or­der of a so­ci­ety that had failed to rec­og­nize Lati­nos’ ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing the 1960s and 1970s.

Ro­driguez said his own ca­reer in the film in­dus­try has been marked by sim­i­lar at­tempts to de­pict the Latino and, in par­tic­u­lar, the Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence in all its com­plex­ity.

“I’m go­ing to do what I can to cor­rect the record,” Ro­driguez said. “That’s my job.”

In that re­spect, Acosta proved the perfect sub­ject mat­ter for a film by Ro­driguez.

De­spite hav­ing au­thored two semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal books, hav­ing run for Los An­ge­les County sher­iff in 1970 and hav­ing rep­re­sented in court the or­ga­niz­ers of the famed East Los An­ge­les walk­outs in 1968, Acosta is most widely known as Hunter S. Thomp­son’s “300-pound Samoan” at­tor­ney in Thomp­son’s sem­i­nal work, “Fear and Loathing in Las Ve­gas.”

Al­though Acosta was un­apolo­get­i­cally over­weight, he cer­tainly wasn’t just an un­so­phis­ti­cated side­kick, as Thomp­son de­picted him, Ro­driguez said.

For proof of that, Ro­driguez said, one only need to turn to Acosta’s books, “The Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of a Brown Buf­falo” and “The Re­volt of the Cock­roach Peo­ple,” pub­lished in 1972 and 1973, re­spec­tively.

Read­ers, and es­pe­cially Mex­i­can-Amer­i­cans, should in­stantly rec­og­nize them­selves in Acosta’s frus­tra­tions, vul­ner­a­bil­ity and hopes, as Ro­driguez did when he had read the books as an un­der­grad­u­ate.

“It was very clear to me that he was one of my peo­ple,” he said.

In many re­spects Acosta’s per­son­al­ity and ex­is­tence also ren­dered him in­com­pre­hen­si­ble to both main­stream so­ci­ety and a Latino pop­u­la­tion that lacked the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal to ap­pre­ci­ate and sup­port some­one of his stature.

“They didn’t know how to deal with some­one who was still so un­apolo­getic and con­fronta­tional,” Ro­driguez said. “There wasn’t enough crit­i­cal mass for Raza to be able to sup­port one of their own.”

The film it­self is a drama­ti­za­tion that mixes archival footage with ac­tors cast as Acosta, Thomp­son and oth­ers who pro­vide mock in­ter­views about the go­ings-on of that tu­mul­tuous pe­riod.

The film’s tem­plate also pays homage to the hu­mor and ex­ag­ger­a­tion that Acosta him­self em­ployed to great ef­fect in his lit­er­ary works, Ro­driguez said.

Acosta, a one-time Bap­tist mis­sion­ary who once wrote a res­ig­na­tion let­ter to Je­sus, was born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in the San Joaquin Val­ley. He was 39 years old when he dis­ap­peared un­der mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances in Mex­ico in 1974.

“I think Os­car’s life was perfect in the way that it is,” Ro­driguez said. “What he does is re­main an enigma. He was prob­a­bly fated to live his life as a very bright comet.”

“The Rise and Fall of the Brown Buf­falo” will screen at 7 p.m. Thurs­day at SDSU-IV Rod­ney Au­di­to­rium. Re­cep­tion with com­pli­men­tary tacos and bev­er­ages will be from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. RSVP at­falo


At­tor­ney Os­car Zeta Acosta at a demon­stra­tion in down­town Los An­ge­les, circa 1970.

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