Confronting Homophobia In 'La Mission'

fromKJZZ

Straight Latino siblings confront homophobia and violence in their new film, La Mission. The film stars Benjamin Bratt and is directed by his younger brother, Peter. Benjamin plays an ex-gangbanger who discovers his son is gay. After generations of avoiding a taboo topic, the men say, it's time for the Latino community to redefine masculinity and bring conversations about sexuality out of the closet.

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The filmmakers behind the movie "La Mission" hope that Latinos will begin to talk more openly about homosexuality. The film takes place in San Francisco's Mission District, a neighborhood that's portrayed in the film as a community peppered with as much violence and macho posturing and culture and pride.

Marcos Najera of member station KJZZ talked with the brothers behind the movie.

(Soundbite of music)

MARCOS NAJERA: Peter and Benjamin Bratt grew up grew up in the Mission District. The two brothers say their Peruvian mom was a neighborhood activist who raised them to tackle tough issues, and that's exactly what they're trying to do with "La Mission."

Peter wrote and directed the film.

Mr. PETER BRATT (Director, "La Mission"): This in very many senses is a coming-of-age story, not so much for the son as it is for the father.

NAJERA: Peter's brother, Benjamin, plays the main character, Che Rivera. He's a tough ex-con who learns his only son is gay.

(Soundbite of film, "La Mission")

Mr. BENJAMIN BRATT (Actor): (As Che Rivera) But if you think that if talking about it or processing it or however you want to call it is going to somehow make it all right or acceptable or that maybe one day I'm going to, like, give you my blessing, then you're wasting your time because that is never gonna happen.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Meaning?

Mr. BENJAMIN BRATT: (As Rivera) Meaning I don't want to know about it. I don't want to have it anywhere near me. Entiendes?

Mr. BENJAMIN BRATT: We all knew getting involved with this that the story necessarily would explore heavy themes.

NAJERA: Benjamin says his macho dad character in the film feels hurt and betrayed by his son's secret. So the punches fly.

Mr. BENJAMIN BRATT: And then of course, with this father who is rigid, immovable, impervious to change, close-minded, we really need to go in a different direction that doesn't involve violence.

NAJERA: Coming out stories aren't new, but they're rarely told from a Latino perspective. Even so, Peter Bratt says his screenplay was a tough sell.

Mr. PETER BRATT: When we actually first took the script around and tried to get financing within traditional channels, even meeting with white gay executives, we were told: didn't you see "Brokeback Mountain"?

NAJERA: The assumption among most studio execs, says Bratt, was that a mainstream blockbuster had already dealt with a dangerous gay storyline. So Latinos didn't need a rerun. Peter Bratt disagreed.

Mr. PETER BRATT: I mean, Latinos and African Americans turned out in record number to vote for Obama. A few months later, they turned out in record numbers again to vote in support of the ban on gay marriage. And I think people realize, wow, this is still a huge issue in the Latino and other minority communities. And so what we hope is that it kind of shines a light and begins a conversation.

NAJERA: The brothers Bratt are determined to get their indie film into more theaters. So they're forging ahead with a grueling, grassroots publicity campaign fueled by Facebook. If fans can secure a sellout at their local box office, then Benjamin and Peter might show up, either in person or through a Skype chat session.

Mr. BRANDON RIOS(ph): I thought it was awesome, probably one of the best movies Ive seen so far.

NAJERA: Eighteen-year-old Brandon Rios came to a screening in L.A. just so he could meet the movie stars, but he admits the actual movie threw him off guard.

Mr. RIOS: Every, like, well, gay scene, I guess, I just like kind of kept my head down. Like, I was just, wow. I didn't really want to watch it or whatever, but...

NAJERA: Do you mind if I ask you why you think feel that way?

Mr. RIOS: It kind of - it just had me uncomfortable, you know.

NAJERA: This discomfort is familiar to the students that Salvador Pacach(ph) works with. He's a group leader for gay youth at East L.A.'s Latino community center, Bienestar.

Mr. SALVADOR PACACH (Group Leader, Bienestar): A lot of parents have a dream of you, of who you are, and we basically shatter that dream.

Unidentified Man #2: Who here wants a Spanish song? Who here wants a Spanish song?

NAJERA: According to Pacach, most of the gay Latino students he works with have parents who have abused them, either verbally or physically, sometimes both. So the clinic is a place where the kids can come to talk openly about their sexuality.

Mr. PACACH: Many of these topics that we speak here at Bienestar are basically like taboos with parents. I mean, many youth cannot freely talk with parents. I mean, some can. Many can't.

NAJERA: The Bratt brothers hope their film can help change this family dynamic. Actor Benjamin Bratt says that's the mission of "La Mission."

Mr. BENJAMIN BRATT: You know, what the film really is trying to do is examine how we as a society define power and how we define what masculinity is. And I think we sort of need a new definition.

NAJERA: The film opened to limited release this spring in New York and Los Angeles. It heads to more theaters across the country this summer.

For NPR News, I'm Marcos Najera.

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