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American Experience: A Class Apart
American Experience A Class Apart
Director: Carlos Sandoval
Genres: Television, Educational, Documentary
NR     2009     1hr 0min

In the tiny town of Edna, Texas, in 1951, a field hand named Pete Hernandez murdered his employer after exchanging words in a gritty cantina. From this unremarkable small-town murder emerged a landmark civil rights case th...  more »

     
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Movie Details

Director: Carlos Sandoval
Genres: Television, Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Educational, History
Studio: Pbs (Direct)
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 04/21/2009
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 1hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

A third path
Jeffery Mingo | Homewood, IL USA | 04/27/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I watched this documentary with a Mexican-American friend who had a unique childhood experience. She was in the US and in Texas for the first time. On the playground, a white girl shoved her toward a Black girl and yelled, "She's not white!" The Black girl pushed her back and said, "Well, she's not Black!" At the time, she did not know enough English to respond to both girls, but she knew both statements were accurate. This documentary too tries to create a third path and find space outside of the Black-white paradigm.
The documentary starts by detailing discrimination against Mexican Americans before the Civil Rights Movement. In Texas, they were forced to sit in the back of theaters and many restaurants would not serve them. The point of this case was to challenge how Mexican Americans were not allowed on juries. The case involved an intraracial murder and I'm surprised another test case wasn't chosen. (This is similar to how the Miranda of Miranda rights was no saint.)
On the one hand, Mexican Americans were deemed white de jure, but treated as less-than-white de facto. A legal team came up with the idea that they were "a class apart" (thus the title of the work). It argued that they couldn't be deemed equal if they were treated as not the equals to whites. Even though the close time frame was quite close to "Brown v. Bd. of Education," this legal team was diligent to distance themselves from African Americans, so said the narrator. At no point did the legal team argue that they were of indigenous descent or that they were people of color. The work even says most Supreme Court justices did not really know that Mexican Americans existed. One Justice referred to the group by an epithet and didn't know he was doing it. (The documentary doesn't mention how many Justices knew nothing about the target group in "Bowers v. Hardwick" thirty years later.)
The interviewees were diverse in terms of gender. I got the sense that every interviewee was Latino, but some could have been Caucasian. The work spoke about the lead attorney Gilberto Garcia being handsome, brilliant, but alcoholic. I like that they showed a leader as being a complex figure; they didn't sugar-coat the facts to make viewers feel at ease. I don't recall hearing of this case in law school and I wonder if this work may be the catalyst for covering this case as much as a "Brown" or a "Korematsu."
The documentary liner notes said it was an hour long, but it was more like 50 minutes. I swear Edward James Olmos was the narrator, but I didn't see his name anywhere in the credits. This important documentary would have had a wider audience if it had Spanish language subtitles as an option."
Fascinating documentary
Richard C. Norton | New York, NY | 05/17/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This intelligent, fascinating piece of investigative journalism is a compelling account of how racism re: Latinos totally permeated Texas society in the 1950s. Why and how an ordinary murder case precipitates a challenge to conventional jury selection, and gets all the way to the US Supreme Court is an amazing story, and must be seen..."
Great Piece of American History
Eddie Aldrete | San Antonio, TX USA | 10/12/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Until this documentary, Hernandez vs Texas, was one of historys' greatest kept secrets. Thanks to A CLASS APART, filmmakers Carlos Sandoval and Peter Miller shine the light on a group of brave Texas pioneers who bothered to challenge the status quo. This case is as historically significant in American history as Brown vs Board of Education, but was overshadowed by the Brown ruling a few weeks later in 1954. This film goes a long way in reminding people that the struggles for equality and social justice by Mexican-Americans in Texas in the 40's and 50's remain important lessons that need to be told."