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With: Peter and Benjamin Bratt

With: Peter and Benjamin Bratt


Brothers Peter and Benjamin Bratt deal with homophobia and machismo in the Sundance premiere La Mission.

Brothers Benjamin and Peter Bratt premiered their new film La Mission Monday night at the Sundance Film Festival. The film stars Benjamin Bratt as Che, a bus driver by day and low-riding enthusiast by night who is the pride of his community, the Mission District of San Francisco. A recovering alcoholic and widower, his central relationship is with his teenage son, whom he beats up and throws out of the house after discovering that he is gay. Even after repeated attempts to reconcile, the two still end up parted, largely as a result of Che's violent nature.

Written and directed by Peter Bratt, the film follows Che as he struggles to accept his son. But that's just one layer of this film, which explores machismo, cultural identity, misogyny, and the evolution of America. sat down with Benjamin and Peter at the Queer Lounge on Main Street to discuss the film. are many things going on in this film. On the one hand it is about a father coming to terms with his son's sexuality, but it is also about machismo, cultural heritage, violence. What was the goal of this film?Peter Bratt: As the writer, there were many things that I felt like I needed to communicate, but the big idea for me was that here is this man, this patriarch, who negotiates life in a very similar way as we do as a culture. He defines power as might makes right. He uses violence and intimidation to get his way. And he is respected in the neighborhood because of it. As a dominate culture, we revere and admire the same things. So for me the idea was, what will it take him as a man to go from living in that way to something new? One of the things I think defines the country and masculinity is violence. I wanted to do something than commented on violence and nonviolence. So in the story, when he discovers his son is gay, that is a catalyst that causes him to examine himself. But his homophobia is tied to his misogyny -- it is all interrelated. My favorite scene is when he comes home after beating up his son and sees the word "faggot" written on the garage, which is an act of violence, and now he is a victim of his own hatred. Then he goes to watch TV and sees soldiers terrorizing Iraqi families. It is all interconnected and as a writer that is what interests me.

Why do you think that homosexuality is the ultimate catalyst, the most horrible thing that can happen in that community?Peter: It's interesting, a few Latino men who read the script were so uncomfortable with the idea that Che, who is such a badass, has a son who is a "faggot." The question came to me, "well, couldn't he be a drug dealer?" [Laughs] That is more acceptable! That taboo nature of homophobia in our community is that we just don't want to shed light on it.Benjamin: It's not an accidental irony that here within arguably the most progressive and liberal city in the world, you have a dinosaur, a man who personifies the resistance to change, and certainly of anything that is different from the traditionalism in which he grew up. The discovery of his son's homosexuality is a catalyst that leads him to behave in the way he was socialized to behave. One that is apparent to us at least, and we find less so in the dominant community, by which I mean the white community, this is not an issue that has been dealt with in the African-American and Latino communities. In fact it's so taboo that it is hardly discussed. It could be argued that it has been dealt with in the white community.

Or at least is being dealt with.Benjamin: Right and we faced some problems trying to get the film financed. People said, "Look at Will & Grace and Brokeback Mountain. It's over. Where is the crux, where is the conflict in your story? We've dealt with this." Really? Have you been to the Mission? You need not look very far if you are in those communities that the reaction to that kind of discovery oftentimes is violent because of the way you are socialized.

And this is obviously a socialization that you two are familiar with growing up?Peter: It's all around. If you are gay then you are somehow a lesser man. To me, why it is taboo is not that it has so much to do with morality or religiosity, though that is certainly part of it, but it's more that you feminize someone. You have, "he's my bitch," "he's my pussy," "you got punked out." And for this character that is really what it is. He is hypermasculine. To have his only son be gay is somehow a reflection of him.

Did you have to struggle with any of this in your upbringing?Benjamin: I think it is important to note that San Francisco, in light of it being so progressive, is one of the most cosmopolitan cities on earth. We grew up in and around the Mission.Peter: And we grew up in a rare household. Our mother was an incredible activist who took us to one rally after another. She was involved with the Native American struggle, the farm worker struggle; she worked in clinics where LGBT issues came up. But for a majority of Latino families, the family is the cornerstone of culture. People are so afraid of disrupting their place in the family or else they will have nowhere to go. Actually I have this friend, Caitlin Ryan at San Francisco State, who is doing this incredible research. It's called the Family Acceptance Project and they are reaching out to help mainly young LGBT people from minority communities who feel like they can't come out because it destroys their place in the family, and by destroying the family they lose their place in culture, and it leads to suicide or drug addiction, or risky sexual behavior. They are developing research to reach out to families to let them know that if you react this way you may very well lose your child.Benjamin: Our mother, a single mother of five kids, through her teachings and exposure to her network of friends, educated us that we really are all the same. So we never really dealt with that kind of persecution from a personal point of view.Peter: With minorities' struggles, it has been the struggle to be who you are. Which is very similar to the queer struggle. And one of the things we got from our mother, in Native perspective we come to this earth with our identities. If you talk to a lot of two-spirit people in the Native community, they say, "I was created this way." So the struggle is to be who I was created as and to express myself freely. As coming from a colonized and oppressed people, our mother stressed that everyone has a right to be, to exist.

In the film, after all the struggles and Che has been parted from his son, he ends up driving down to Los Angeles, where his son has moved with the car he built for him. Where do you think the character ends up? Is he ultimately reunited or changed? Where is he mentally at that point?Benjamin: As reluctant as Che is with everything, the way Peter and I wanted to leave it is that he at least now, having gone through a kind of spiritual transformation and having become an open vessel, if you will, is that he is on the road to redemption, literally and metaphorically. We hope he is on this new path and that the final moment would be optimistic. He is melted down to the essence of what he is, and we define that as love.Peter: There is redemption for everyone, no matter where they are at in their life journey. Che is this badass patriarch, and our culture is filled with them. We recognize Donald Trump as one and he gets that from money. But for men from disenfranchised cultures they get it in physicality, from tattoos and posturing. You know watching the inauguration today, you can see that we are clearly at a crossroads and have to decide what direction our culture is going to go. And Che is at this threshold: Either he is going to stick to old habits, or he is going to push himself, grow, and mature. And for me I was hoping people could relate to that, because as a culture we are in a similar place. I'm an optimist. He has been melted down and reborn and he has the courage to take the next step. But where it leads, well, as a friend of mine says, "That's in the hands of God."

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