La Mission is an independent film produced by and starring Benjamin Bratt and written and directed by his brother Peter. Available now on DVD from redbox, it’s the story of Che (Bratt), a reformed convict, recovering alcoholic and “straight-up OG” who lives in San Francisco’s Mission District while raising his teenage son Jess (Jeremy Ray Valdez).
Che loves the classic low-rider cars he restores and cruises in on Friday nights and takes great pride in his Hispanic heritage and his Mission community. But Che’s true pride and joy is his son Jess, an honor student who’s about to graduate and head off to college. Unfortunately when Che finds out Jess is gay, he reacts violently, beating and throwing the young man out of his house.
Last month Bratt visited the redbox headquarters near Chicago to talk about La Mission. It’s clear in person how personally meaningful the film is to the actor—and even more evident on the screen, where he brings Che to rich, soulful life. The character feels authentic and honest, and Bratt’s trademark charm and charisma translates easily and naturally to Che’s street confidence.
The following is some of what the actor had to say to redbox about La Mission:
Bratt: Growing up in San Francisco and the Mission District had a deep influence on my life as a kid. My brother and I knew the film wasn’t a money-making venture, but we wanted to make something that was lasting, a hallmark for the community we come from. Peter is the architect of the movie, and he really understood this community and felt a responsibility to the authentic Latino culture. But now it’s really affirming to find there’s a wide and varied audience out there for it.
It’s a film about family, but it’s not a “family film.” People come and bring their cousins, grandma… but there’s a lotta F-bombs. The film really seems to be resonating with all people who see it. It’s about the Hispanic low-rider culture, but it plays well with Black, White, Hispanic, art-house audiences, and gay audiences.
The universality of the themes explored in the film resonate with human experience. It’s an art-house film with mainstream urban crossover appeal. It deals with the gay subculture, but some have referred to it as a heterosexual date movie because Che becomes romantically involved with his very liberal African-American neighbor, played by Erika Alexander. Plus there’s a lotta humor, beautiful cars, and a slamming soundtrack.
[At this point the film's co-producer Alpita Patel added that La Mission also features "Benjamin Bratt with his shirt off!"]
Low-riders have a wrongful misidentification with gang culture. It’s from the Mexican-American minority experience out of Texas where marginalized Mexican-American youth took throwaway Chevys and made them low and slow. It’s an original American art form. And if you’re a true low-rider, you gotta have music—R&B and soul oldies, not hip-hop and rap.
On Hollywood Roles for Latino Actors
Bratt: When it comes to roles for Latinos in film, the good news is things are improving. This country is in a place of transformation as we begin to understand this variety is what America is now. Since the late ‘80s we’ve been catching up, but we got a ways to go. Movies are still too often green-lit by middle-aged white men with a limited experience.
Bratt: In the movie Che is all hard angles and rough exterior. He’s like Charles Bronson or Rocky—he negotiates life using violence. But the film subverts your expectations—what really drives him is not violence but love for community, for family, and for his son. So La Mission is a coming-of-age story for the father, not the son. It’s Che’s redemptive path, not Jess’s. It’s about tolerance and acceptance.
Che is based on a real-life guy from the Mission District, a single father with a passion for low-rider cars. When my brother told him about the project, the real Che was like “Hell yeah, man—who’s gonna play me?” And when Peter said I would, Che said, “See? I gained a foot [in height] right there!”
The real Che was nervous about the gay son theme, asking “Why does he have to be gay? Why not a drug dealer or a murderer?” That really speaks to the homophobia in the Latino community—that a drug dealer or murderer son is preferable to a gay son. No one talks about it.
But the first time Che saw the film, when it was over he walked out right at the end without saying anything. My brother thought, “Oh no, he hates it, he’s really angry.” Later Che told Peter, “I had to get out of there, man. I was gonna start crying like a little bitch.”