Carlos Santana accomplished what others hadn’t. After a long talk with farm worker union founder Dolores Huerta, he asked her if he could make a film about her life. He promised her to tell her real story, and the civil rights icon agreed.
However, major networks passed on the project, Santana says, and it only inspired him to keep pushing forward as the award-winning documentary, Dolores — which was seen theatrically in 2017 — makes its television debut on PBS’ Independent Lens on Tuesday (March 27).
“I think they were afraid of her,” Santana tells Billboard. “We tried to take it to everybody. Most people wouldn’t touch it: HBO, Netflix, Telemundo. My answer to that is that they are afraid of her light. It’s is too strong.”
At 87, Huerta is busier than ever. The “si, se puede” civil rights leader is known for her work with the late Cesar Chavez. From the 1960s with United Farm Workers to the Dolores Huerta Foundation, her commitment to grassroots causes is inspiring new generations of leaders. But just as many see Huerta as a trailblazer, some find her too controversial, says Peter Bratt, the film’s director.
“She’s an American original,” Bratt says. “I would think the U.S would be proud to claim as their own, but sometimes that’s not the case and she’s been literally erased from the history record.”
Being a female of color who challenges the authority of men and questions capitalism, Bratt says, makes some uncomfortable. “There’s a perception that she’s prickly,” he says. ?
Huerta, who is a lover of jazz music, which she shares with Santana, is seen throughout the film in moments with her family, who are interviewed as well, and give insights to having a matriarch who was often away working.
Historical footage in addition to interviews with public figures such as Hilary Clinton and director Luis Valdez, many shed light on Huerta’s lifelong commitment to activism and taking on major establishments. In one clip, Huerta is seen with Robert Kennedy who won the California presidential primary in the late ’60s. Huerta helped him win the Mexican-American vote with a registration drive.
“Dolores Huerta is a ray of light,” says Santana, who wants to see a holiday named after Huerta. “The film is going to inspire sisters of all ages to roll up their sleeves and continue making changes because there’s too much darkness. Dolores is the queen of equality, fairness, justice and a supreme champion.”