A prescreening and panel discussion of the new PBS documentary Ruben Salazar: Man In The Middle was presented by Visions and Voices last night to a full Annenberg Auditorium, which included Salazar’s two daughters, Lisa and Stephanie.
The event featured Phillip Rodriguez, director and producer of the film; Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and George J. Sanchez, professor of American studies and ethnicity, and history at USC.
“I thought it was very well made and very well produced,” said Maria Plascencia, a sophomore majoring in American studies and ethnicity. “I like that it didn’t take sides like most documentaries about Ruben Salazar do.”
The documentary chronicles the independent investigation into the life and mysterious death of journalist Ruben Salazar, the first Mexican-American news columnist at the Los Angeles Times and concludes that, despite many conspiracy theories, Salazar’s death was accidental.
“I have stood up here many times representing my father,” Lisa Salazar said after the film. “Now, this documentary allows him to represent himself.”
Salazar was killed on Aug. 29, 1970, by a tear-gas projector fired by a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War, according to the Los Angeles Times. The march was the culminating point of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, which represented Latinos’ goal of empowerment.
“Today, even in neighboring communities, there are times when people say they’re American, even though they’re from Mexican descent,” said Laura Guzman, a junior majoring in American studies. “I still see a stigma in the younger generations.”
Sometime before his death, LAPD cautioned Salazar about his coverage of the rising Chicano revolutionary movement in the city. Salazar then spoke with members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and told them he thought he was being followed. Days later, he was killed, and has since become a martyr figure for many Latinos.
“It was a very moving film,” said Will Federman, a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. “It gave a great portrait of a complex man.”
Sanchez addressed this issue of Latino assimilation into American culture in terms of many peoples’ idolization of Salazar.
“We had kind of built a mythology about his death,” Sanchez said, “not focusing enough on his life.”
Filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez is a visiting fellow at the Annenberg School whose previous documentaries include Race 2012, Latinos ’08 and Brown Is the New Green: George Lopez and the American Dream. Rodriguez spoke about his quest to bring new light to a story he believes has been previously mischaractarized because of a lack of true information.
“It is a really powerful story about a really extraordinary period in history,” Rodriguez said. “My ambition was to take a story that had been marginalized and put it in the American mainsteam.”
Rodriguez was a young boy living in Los Angeles when Salazar was killed and, as a fellow Latino, wanted to reveal the truth behind the “controversial incident,” which he feels has been “shrouded by conspiracy theories because police were very reluctant to reveal information.”
When police officials refused to release their records, Rodriguez sought help from Thomas A. Saenz of MALDEF, who was another panelist at the screening, and together they took legal action.
“We had to force the police to cough up the details,” Rodriguez said. “And we did so by suing them and winning.”
Though the details of the newly released information offered no new conclusions in the mysterious death the film presents a fuller picture of the life of Salazar and his contributions to journalism.
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