Bratt Brothers 1.5

Benjamin Bratt and Peter Bratt Address the Politics of Ethnicity

The 2009 indie movie La Mission, produced, written and directed by Peter Bratt and starring his brother Benjamin Bratt, just may be the kind of film that merits being described as hard to

Peter and Benjamin Bratt backstage before the Q&A (Photo by Tessie Borden)

categorize. So many currents run through it that it doesn’t fit neatly into any one pigeon hole.

On Oct. 20, the Autry hosted a screening of the movie, in 35mm, in the Wells Fargo Theatre, followed by an audience Q&A session with the Bratt brothers.

“We were talking one day, and we said it’s funny how people want to characterize the film as a coming out story; it’s not at all,” said Benjamin Bratt in a chat with Trading Posts before going onstage. “It’s a coming of age story, but not for the son — for the father.”

The movie tells the story of Che Rivera, a very macho and proudly Latino reformed alcoholic ex-​con bus driver from San Francisco’s Mission district who is used to settling conflict with his fists. One day, he discovers his honor student son Jes, his pride and joy, is gay. The process by which he assimilates this fact is a journey of definition that touches on issues not only of homosexuality, but of male/​female politics, generational differences, and indigenous identity.

To the brothers, the coming out theme was not the full story, but a catalyst to talk about Che’s journey.

“If we can define Che as a man of violence, and I think we can, his son’s sexual orientation really

Benjamin Bratt answers a question from the audience (Photo by Abel Gutierrez)

provides him with a situation that he can’t shoot or beat his way out of,” said Benjamin Bratt, who portrays Che and also gets producer credits in the movie. “It’s totally new territory to him. His typical way of responding… doesn’t work anymore.”

The film, a 5 Stick Films and Tom Kat Films production, was a homecoming for the Bratt brothers, who grew up as two of five children of a Quechua Indian single mom in the Mission district.

“The story is based on somebody that we know who grew up in the Mission, who’s a few years older than us,” Peter Bratt said. “Who he is is very much influenced by the social movements incubated in the Mission district in the sixties and seventies.”

The story also reflects a kind of nostalgia for the activism and identity politics they saw as children, which was a big part of the neighborhood’s flavor.

“When we were coming up, there were pow wows every week, and it was always in the heart of the Mission,” Peter Bratt said. “There was also the Chicano renaissance, where you had Mexican Americans who were born here, claiming after centuries their indigenous heritage. Che … the real life guy, he grabbed on to that. I think that’s what allowed him to survive some of the challenges he experienced in real life.”

During the Q&A, the Bratt brothers talked about how the movie gave them a chance to work with their neighbors. Many members of the cast and crew were people from the neighborhood,

Peter Bratt signs an autograph after the session (Photo by Abel Gutierrez)

untrained actors that nevertheless turned in subtle performances. And that helped lend authenticity to the film.

The two believe social activism today doesn’t have the same intensity as it did during their childhood.

“You just saw people a lot more engaged than I think they are today,” Peter Bratt said. “The legislation going on in Arizona — SB1070 — I don’t think those types of measures, or the building of a wall spanning the entire country, or the wars going on, I think people would have reacted a lot more strongly at that time. I think we’re a little more sedentary because we’re a lot more comfortable.”

Benjamin Bratt chats with audience members after the Q&A (Photo by Abel Gutierrez)

Much of identity politics, they believe, has been co-​opted by an all-​encompassing American consumer culture and a cheapening of values.

“While now more than ever it’s not only acceptable but a kind of vogue to be loud and proud about who you are and where your people come from,” Benjamin Bratt said, “at the same time there’s an external pressure on all people, not just young people, to homogenize and be American.”

The pressure is nothing new, he noted. They also grew up with it. But today, it comes from cultural sources that once might have gone as much against the mainstream as with it.

“My mom was commenting not too long ago on how, when her generation set out to organize for change, I think they realized they were part of a long tradition,” Peter Bratt said. “My mom said she didn’t expect to see some of the changes that occurred in her lifetime.”

Young people today, he said, don’t have that kind of patience.

“We text message now, we fax now, we Twitter now, and so we’re used to having results right away,” Peter Bratt said. “The real lasting change that comes from organizing and challenging the dominant culture, it don’t happen like that. It happens over generations.”

This article is filed under:

Autry Events · Behind-the-Scenes · Conversations

About the author

Tessie Borden is a former newspaper journalist. She writes about the arts in light of the cultural and political history of the Americas, the American West and California.