Conversations
With: Peter and Benjamin Bratt

Conversations
            With: Peter and Benjamin Bratt

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.
Advocate.com sat down with Benjamin and Peter at the Queer
Lounge on Main Street to discuss the film.

Advocate.com:There 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.

Benjamin Bratt in La Mission x390 (film still) | Advocate.com 

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.”

Tags: World, World

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