Illustration by Patrick Yeung.
Illustration by Patrick Yeung.

Benjamin Bratt’s handsome, bearded face — instantly recognizable as a star of NBC’s television program “Law and Order” — visited UC Santa Cruz on April 23. But it is his brother, UCSC alumnus and director Peter Bratt, who was the focus of the event.

Both Bratts came to UCSC’s Cervantes Conference Room above the Quarry Plaza on Friday, April 23 for an open discussion of their new independent film, “La Mission.” Dozens of students filled the Cervantes Room to hear the brothers discuss the issues raised by the film.

“La Mission” stars Benjamin Bratt as streetwise single father Che Rivera. The film strives to recreate the predominately Hispanic Mission District of San Francisco as it was when the Bratts grew up there.

“Benjamin and I … always dreamed of making a film in our own backyard,” Peter Bratt said. “This is that dream realized.”

The film’s plot centers around Rivera’s violent reaction to discovering that his son is gay.

“It’s dealt with in a way that is reflective of what happens in real life within the community,” Benjamin Bratt said. “Being gay and being Latino, they’re not mutually exclusive things. It really exists, [but] we don’t like to admit it. We don’t like to talk about it.”

The Bratts have noticed both positive and negative reactions to the film.

“There have been some angry voices from the neighborhood and the cultural community about why we were airing dirty laundry, so to speak,” Benjamin Bratt said. But Bratt hopes that many leave the film with a new way of looking at gay rights.

Benjamin Bratt said he loves hearing viewers respond to the issues by saying, “‘I get it,’ or ‘I’m ready to listen.’” He said these responses are “one of the great victories of any good piece of art, changing the paradigm.”

The brothers were pleased with the audience’s reactions to the movie.

“What people seem to be emerging from the theaters with is a real sense of pride, of brown pride, which is exultant, which is celebratory,” Benjamin Bratt said. “That’s exactly what we wanted to achieve.”

Peter Bratt, who graduated from Cowell College in 1986, was met with a sense of nostalgia in returning to the campus.

He described having a “transformative life experience” at UCSC, which he attributed to a “unique spirit that’s still really alive on this particular campus.”

“This university … really emphasizes liberal arts and social justice,” Peter Bratt said, “and that’s really what motivated me to want to make films.”

A woman in the audience asked, “Can you help to affirm that to the chancellors so they — ” But the rest of her statement was lost, drowned out in jeers from the audience.

Bratt was eager to give back to the university that inspired him, so the Friday night viewing of “La Mission” at the Nickelodeon Theatre downtown served as a fundraiser for the Latin American and Latino studies department. The event was reported to have had a big turnout.

The film is also tied to UCSC through Latin American and Latino studies teacher Greg Landau, who served as music supervisor for the film. “I’ve known Peter and Benjamin for many years,” Landau said. “So when the time came to make the movie, they called me to help coordinate the music and compose some of the music to reflect the culture of the neighborhood.”

“La Mission” is debuting at the same time as Arizona is passing a controversial new law requiring law officers to demand proof of legal residency of anyone for whom there is “reasonable suspicion” of being an undocumented citizen, even as federal immigration reform is said to be right around the corner.

“From what I understand, UCSC has an increasing number of Latino students and Native American students. So I hope [the film] will be a voice heard by the student movement here on campus,” Peter Bratt said. “I also know that, even when I was here in the early 80’s, there were a lot of movement struggles in Watsonville and Beach Flats, and that’s still the case today.”

“You’re surrounded by a lot of farm worker communities that I think can relate to the material,” he added.

The Bratts made it clear that their movie is not about any one social issue. “At the end of the day, what we’re talking about … is the desire for a sense of belonging, which really means love,” said Benjamin Bratt. “We all want the same thing. We all want love.”