Arts & CultureFilm & TV

Review: ‘Dolores’ focuses on the key civil rights activist most have probably never heard of

Dolores Huerta’s story needed to be told. How could one of the most influential figures in every farm workers rights movement in the U.S. be so unknown? How could such a powerful activist from the civil rights era, who is still working today, not be a household name? The documentary “Dolores” addresses those questions.

“Dolores” chronicles the career of Dolores Huerta, 87, who co-founded the United Farm Workers union and organized the Delano grape strike of 1965 along with César Chávez. Huerta was the main negotiator of the workers’ contract that the strike prompted.

In the film, distinguished contemporaries of Huerta like Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis talk about what Huerta’s work means to them. They comment on Robert F. Kennedy’s friendship with Huerta and what it meant to all civil rights movements when Kennedy was murdered. Huerta stood on the stage with Kennedy moments before he was shot.

The film asserts that Huerta’s work should be viewed as equally important to Chávez’. They were partners. She was not his “sidekick” as one film interviewee said.

Interviews with several of Huerta’s 11 kids, and Huerta herself, explore the sacrifices she made early in her career to bring national awareness to the plights of mostly Latino farm workers. Her whole life was dedicated to her cause. Her kids had to come second.

“She felt guilty living life,” said Huerta’s daughter, Camila Chávez.

However, the film makes clear Huerta’s love of life outside of the movement. She was a jazz  enthusiast. The film weaves in a remarkable soundtrack filled with jazz, salsa, soul, funk and rock tracks appropriate for each period of Huerta’s life. Songs by James Brown and Carlos Santana, who also produced the film, fit perfectly with Huerta’s spirit.

Huerta’s accomplishments are so numerous that the film feels rushed, but for good reason. Each detail is worth including. Its pace mirrors Huerta’s unrelenting advocacy. She drew on the non-violent philosophy of Gandhi and was one of the first people to talk about environmental justice when farm workers were dying from toxic pesticide exposure. Environmental justice is now an independent school of thought.

The film makes a timely comment about the ill-advised tendency for the public to view civil rights movements in isolation. Huerta was picketing in California and talking about the economics of racism at the time Martin Luther King Jr. was marching in the streets of Alabama. The movie shows echoes of that tendency to see civil rights movements as discrete in today’s social justice movements.

The Broadway Metro theater on W Broadway between Olive and Willamette streets is showing the film until Oct. 26. On Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. the theater is partnering with the political action group Sister District Project and all proceeds from that showing of “Dolores” will go toward supporting the campaigns of Manka Dhingra for Washington State Senate and Mike Mullin for Virginia House of Delegates.

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Max Egener

Max Egener

Max Egener is an Arts & Culture writer for the Daily Emerald. He covers documentaries, food and science and is currently pursuing a master's degree in journalism.