At one point in “Dolores,” the excellent documentary about the life of Dolores Huerta, the 58-year-old labor activist is laid up in a hospital bed, having suffered broken ribs at the hands of a police officer during a non-violent 1988 demonstration against George Bush’s policies.
When a loved one asks her, “Dolores, what can we do for you?” she answers, “Boycott Safeway.”
That fervor is apparent throughout the inspiring and informative film by Peter Bratt, which tells the story of the woman who almost singlehandedly organized a national boycott of grapes that forced industry growers to sign a historic collective bargaining contract with California farm workers in 1970.
She also was the co-founder of the United Farm Workers, although, as the film examines sexism surrounding its heroine, history has given Cesar Chavez most of the credit for advances in labor conditions and rights realized by the union.
“Dolores” shows her working tirelessly, meeting poor Latinos, educating about ways they can improve their lives.
The movie sets the record straight, too, on the fact that it was Huerta, not Chavez, who came up with the movement’s famous catch phrase “Si se puede” (“Yes, we can”), also used by Barack Obama during his presidential run.
Now 87, Huerta herself appears in the film, though her comments are perhaps less compelling than the plentiful historical footage (amazing scenes show her campaigning for Bobby Kennedy and him publicly thanking her for her support moments before he was assassinated) or sensitive interviews with several of her 11 adult children (who share frustrations about having grown up with an absentee mom).
Although it boasts an impressive array of talking heads (from supporters such as Angela Davis to detractors including Bill O’Reilly) and a chronological span that reaches into Huerta’s ninth decade as she continues her human rights advocacy, “Dolores” could go longer and deeper.
Many fascinating topics are limited to a mention. It’d be interesting to hear even more from more of her offspring; more details about conflicts she had with Chavez; more about her bittersweet departure from the UFW after Chavez’s death; or even more about the fact that the father of four of her children was Cesar’s brother, Richard.
Three and a half stars
Starring: Dolores Huerta
Written and directed by: Peter Bratt
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes