As they sit next to each other in a hotel suite for a recent press day, actor Benjamin Bratt and his brother, writer-director Peter Bratt, seem eager to discuss the meaty, troubling, ultimately uplifting subjects covered in their new film, La Mission.
Set in the Mission District of San Francisco (hometown to the Bratts), the film focuses on Che Rivera (Benjamin Bratt), a municipal bus driver, ex-con and recovering alcoholic who has been a single parent to his teen-age son, Jess. He lives for his spare time, which he devotes to customizing and driving low-riders, the uniquely Latino form of automotive self-expression. But his world is turned inside out when he discovers that Jess is gay; he disowns his son, then must come to terms with his own restrictive view of the world - and of masculinity.
The film, which opens in limited release today (4/9/10), is a family affair, with Peter serving as writer-director and Benjamin as producer-star, the first from their joint production company.
Q: How does this film fit with attitudes in California regarding Proposition 8 (which outlawed gay marriage)?
Peter: The script actually came into conception long before Prop 8. Prop 8 was definitely a topic while we were filming. It's come up a few times in discussions since the film started being screened.
Q: Didn't both the Latino and African-American communities vote heavily in favor of Proposition 8?
Peter: The reaction in California - the Latino opposition to gay marriage - surprised people. It speaks to the attitude toward homosexuality and to homophobia in the black and Latino communities.
Q: Is that a cultural thing? A religious objection?
Peter: It's a really complex animal. In the Latino community, the Catholic church is very strong. There's also the case of a lot of minorities being marginalized by mainstream culture. I've talked to members of Queers of Color, who obviously are alienated from Latino culture - but they don't feel part of the gay community, either. So they're in a kind of no-man's land. There are people who see this as a civil-rights issue. But, as an African-American friend who's a writer told me, a lot of African-Americans don't like to refer to it as a civil-rights issue because that means something very specific to them. They'd rather see it as an equal rights issue.
Benjamin: It's not by accident that the story this film tells is set in one of the most liberal, progressive cities in the world. Within the city, it's not un-ironic that La Mission shares a border with the Castro. And yet it's a world away. I was told a story by a now-out gay Latino man who was raised in the Mission. He was aware of a young gay Chinese man, first-generation American, raised in Chinatown, who until the age of 22, had no idea the Castro existed three miles away.
Q: What about the whole blend of macho and homophobia?
Benjamin: Part of the issue we address is that homophobia is, on some level, part of the socialization within the culture. You add in a mix of religiosity, family, Latino macho stemming from the patriarch and it's a volatile issue that's still very much taboo.