"DOLORES" — 3 stars — Hillary Clinton, Angela Davis, Dolores Huerta, Gloria Steinem; not rated; in general release
Peter Bratt's documentary "Dolores" tells the story of Dolores Huerta, a lifetime activist who worked alongside Cesar Chavez on behalf of Latino and women's rights.
While the surface narrative follows chronologically through Huerta's various efforts, "Dolores" gradually paints the portrait of an unsung hero who hasn't enjoyed the recognition of other male activists like Chavez.
After a montage of contemporary endorsements from politicians like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former U.S. President Barack Obama, "Dolores" begins in rural 1940s California, where Huerta originally set out on a traditional path as a married wife and mother.
But the injustices she witnessed as a teenager awoke a sense of social awareness. After meeting an activist named Fred Ross, Huerta became a community organizer, launching a career that the now-87-year-old continues today.
The heart of Bratt's documentary is Huerta's time with the United Farm Workers union, which she co-founded with Chavez in the 1960s. Her efforts with the union are presented as a contemporary movement of the Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights efforts, and she is held up alongside King, Gandhi and Robert F. Kennedy.
Her friendship with Kennedy is especially highlighted, and in one of the film's more somber moments, we learn that Huerta was with the presidential hopeful at the time of his assassination in 1968 following the California primary.
But "Dolores" also celebrates Huerta's happier moments. It illustrates her involvement in a national grape boycott, a farm workers' march to Sacramento in 1966, and how Obama adapted her "Si Se Puede" slogan into his "Yes We Can" campaign theme.
Bratt brings these events to life through a generous mix of file footage and personal interviews with Huerta's children, activist peers and Huerta, who addresses the camera directly.
At the same time, "Dolores" doesn't shy away from examining her controversial moments, which to certain audiences may make her seem less sympathetic. Aside from critical comments from Teamsters — a group that held a great deal of animosity for Huerta — "Dolores" also delves into the criticism of her personal life, namely for having 11 children with three different men.
As Bratt interviews several of her children, asking them how they felt about a mother who spent so much time away from her family working on various causes, conflict is evident. One daughter remarks, "The movement became her most important child," while another soberly says, "That's part of the sacrifice we had to make."
Huerta's motherhood initially gave her a pro-life stance, but as "Dolores" moves through the early 1970s, we see how her time in New York City working with Gloria Steinem and the feminist movement shifted her into a pro-choice camp.
Years later, as Huerta infamously declares to an assembly of high school students that "Republicans hate Latinos," the audience understands why only Democrats were praising her in the film's opening montage.
"Dolores" is ultimately straightforward, insightful and should be credited for presenting a broad look at a woman many find heroic, and others find polarizing. Its most interesting moment may have been when Huerta remarks, reflecting on a lifetime of struggle, that "I found that no matter what I did, I could never be an American. Never."
"Dolores" is not rated; running time: 95 minutes.