Part of the “American Experience” series, A Class Apart: A Mexican American Civil Rights Story runs approximately one hour, and highlights the landmark 1950s Supreme Court case that redefined civil rights for Mexican Americans in the United States. Award-winning producers Carlos Sandoval (Farmingville) and Peter Miller (Sacco and Vanzetti) tell the historic tale of how a small-town Texas murder case spurred the Mexican American civil rights movement and helped end Jim Crow-style discrimination throughout the Southwest.
In the tiny town of Edna, Texas, in 1951, field hand Pete Hernandez killed tenant farmer Joe Espinosa after exchanging words in a gritty cantina. From this seemingly unremarkable small-town murder emerged a landmark civil rights case that would forever change the lives and legal standing of tens of millions of Americans. This film tells the little-known story of a band of underdog Mexican American lawyers who took their case, Hernandez v. Texas, all the way to the Supreme Court. In the unprecedented case, the attorneys forged a daring legal strategy, arguing that Mexican Americans were essentially “a class apart,” and therefore did not neatly fit into a legal structure that heretofore recognized only blacks and whites. As various legal skirmishes played out, the lawyers emerged as brilliant, dedicated and humorous men, although A Class Apart doesn’t shy away from showing their flaws as well.
Documentaries like A Class Apart are eye-opening not the least because they exist on the edges of any sort of polite distillation of social upheaval one might typically find in regular middle and high school textbooks. With clarity, heartrending humanity and even mordant wit, when appropriate, this film dramatically interweaves the disparate stories of its central characters
— activists and lawyers, returning veterans and ordinary citizens,
murderer and victim — within the broader history of Latinos in the United States. At a time when immigrants are again being vilified in some corners of public discourse, it’s an important reminder that efforts to ensure America’s actions match its rich, inspiring rhetoric must never cease.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, A Class Apart is presented in 16×9 widescreen, and comes with a superb slate of supplemental features, anchored by a making-of featurette that includes interviews, photographs and behind-the-scenes footage. In addition to special material for educators and a clutch of bonus scenes, there’s also a slideshow of photographer Russell Lee’s iconic images of Mexican American life in the late 1940s. Naturally, Spanish subtitles and a Spanish language audio track are also included as well. To order A Class Apart, or any DVD release from PBS Home Video, call (800) PLAY-PBS or click here. B+ (Movie) B+ (Disc)