Rosie Perez’s documentary poses the question, “Why are Puerto Ricans so damn proud?” then offers a dynamic personal response of perseverance over prejudice. Her unique tone, simultaneously smiling and aggressive, colors the film, fusing individual and cultural history. Set to air on cabler IFC June 12, on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade whose imagery bookends the film, the docu, co-directed by Liz Garbus, may measure Hispanic crossover potential.
Apparently Perez had not intended to personally appear in the film, but producers Garbus and Rory Kennedy wisely prevailed upon her to change her mind. It is difficult to see how filmmakers could otherwise have maintained the docu’s upbeat note in the face of a history of enforced sterilization, unsafe drug trials, bombing tests and repression that Perez angrily reveals.
Leafing through photographs while talking about the aunt who raised her in NYC by working four jobs, Rosie becomes the embodiment of the spirit she is honoring as she recounts meeting with members of the Young Lords, who fought for Latino civil rights in the 1960; or hanging out with musicians in the Nuyorican Cafe; or her fear of arrest during the Vieques protests over U.S. Navy bomb-testing in that region of Puerto Rico.
Accompanied by friends and family, including actor cousin Sixto Ramos and her sister Carmen Serrano, who was raised in Puerto Rico, she wanders New York, visiting local museums and checking out displays of her people’s little-known heritage, all the while tracing the ethnic mix of indigenous Taino, Spanish, African, Irish, Scottish and French that make up the inhabitants of an island whose takeover by the United States was a mixed blessing. A brief discussion of the anomalous status of the Commonwealth raises more questions than it answers.
Much of the docu, happily, is given over to celebration in food, music and dance as Rosie joins her compatriots in the parade that for many marks the inauguration of ethnic pride.
Tech credits are fine.