From Peter Bratt, Dolores charts the rise of the US labour movement led by Cesar Chavez and his lesser-known co-founder, Dolores Huerta. 

You’ve probably never heard of Dolores Huerta. That’s unsurprising given that the sexism and racism she did so much to stamp out during her time as a pioneering civil rights activist and leader is still very much alive and well today. In fact, Huerta was one of the chief organisers of the Delano grape strike during the Vietnam War, a staunch advocate of women’s rights, immigrants’ and workers’ rights. She holds the Presidential Medal of Freedom and many attribute Barack Obama’s infamous campaign slogan to her; told at every hurdle she couldn’t, she replied: ‘Sí se suede.’ So why does nobody know who she is?

As a child, Dolores Huerta wanted to be a dancer. Growing up in 1930s Dawson, New Mexico, the daughter of a farm worker and miner, Huerta moved to Stockton, California after her parents’ divorce. It was here that she began her work as a campaigner and civil rights activist, campaigning for the rights of labourers via the National Farm Workers Association (now the UFW), alongside her role as a mother to 11 children.

Huerta began her activism through her work in community service, moving up through the ranks into positions of power traditionally held by white men. She went on to co-found the NFWA with César Chávez in 1962 and gained farm workers and agricultural labourers many hiterhto unheard of rights.

© 1976 George Ballis/Take Stock / The Image Works

Dolores Huerta © 1976 George Ballis/Take Stock / The Image Works

The tempestuous relationship between the two was fierce, and championing the rights of workers came with hot-tempered rows and battles over leadership. Feisty herself, Huerta has been arrested over twenty times for her activities. Despite their conflicts, however, the pair were united on their quest to obtain better rights for agricultural labourers. One of the saddest moments in the film is her heartwarming resignation from the party when following the death of Chávez, the election of a new leader, and the continuation of sexism within the union.

A feminist campaigner, and staunch advocate of Latino rights, Huerta has her fair share of supporters. Huerta stood alongside Robert Kennedy only minutes before his assassination in the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, and voices such as Hillary Clinton pepper the sea of admirers narrating Bratt’s documentary. Indeed, Huerta backed Clinton in the 2016 election, and co-chaired the Washington Women’s March in January following the election of President Trump. She received the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights from President Clinton in 1998, and was praised by Barack Obama for her steadfast pursuit of progress in civil rights movements.

It would be easy for Dolores to fall into the trap of sycophantic hagiography. However, his illumination of Huerta’s life, personal and political, is a balanced one. Her children discuss how she wasn’t there, her absence from family life bearing no influence over their adoration of her when bed-ridden in hospital following a brutal beating by police. Peter Bratt has done a good deal of justice to her in bringing attention to her work. Not that she would want it; when asked what she would do if she were given a fortune, she replied that she’d merely give it to the party, to help people in need.

Dolores is, in fact, an inspiring film about an even more inspiring person. Mark Kilian’s rambunctious soundtrack is a stark reminder of the power of its feisty, effervescent heroine. It is a beautiful illustration of the life of a woman who the powers that be have decided should be tip-exed from the history books. This documentary does her justice, and demands that we reinstate her, and so many other women who have been hidden from history, into the record of our past.

★★★★★

Dolores will launch as part of Bertha DocHouse’s DocHouse Firsts strand at the Curzon Bloomsbury from 1st December.