Peter Bratt announced as 2023 Social Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award recipient

Peter Bratt (Cowell ’86, politics) is UCSC's 2023 Social Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award recipient
From left to right: Peter Bratt, Abby Abinanti; Tribal Judge for the Yurok Tribe and FH board member emeritus, and Josh Acre; San Francisco Director of Work Force Development at the White House in Washington, DC on April 21, 2023.
From left to right: Peter Bratt, Nancy Pelosi; Former Speaker of the House, and Abby Abinanti at the White House celebrating Earth Week and President Joe Biden's signing of the Environment Justice for All executive order.

Peter Bratt (Cowell ’86, politics) is many things: a Rockefeller Fellow, a Peabody Award winner, an Emmy-nominated film producer, writer, and director, and a community organizer and social justice activist. Above all, he is a trailblazer and champion of underrepresented communities. In recognition of his impact, Bratt has been named the honoree of UC Santa Cruz’s 2023 Social Sciences Distinguished Alumni award. 

Bratt is the producer, writer, and director of DOLORES—an award-winning documentary about civil rights activist Dolores Huerta—and Principal Lead of The Village SF, a project formed by a coalition of Native American organizations to provide services to the over 18,000 Native peoples living in San Francisco. 

“I was completely caught off guard and incredibly honored by UCSC’s recognition of the work,” Bratt said. “I had an incredible circle of friends and professors while I was at the university, and winning this award feels like coming full circle.” 

The Social Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award is presented annually. It recognizes a graduate whose career is characterized by sustained and exemplary contributions to society through research, practice, education, policy, or service. The award winners bring enduring honor to their alma mater as practitioners and as citizens. Acting Dean of the Division of Social Sciences Heather Bullock had high praise for this year’s alumni award recipient.

“Peter Bratt exemplifies what it means to be a distinguished alumnus of UC Santa Cruz and the Social Sciences,” Bullock said. “His work to advocate for and amplify underrepresented, marginalized voices and communities is extraordinary. UC Santa Cruz’s Social Sciences Division is honored to name Peter Bratt as our 2023 alumni award recipient.”


Serving the community 

Dolores Huerta has played a part in Peter Bratt’s life since his childhood. 

Bratt’s mother was an organizer and an activist in the ‘60s and ‘70s and took part in movements including the Alcatraz Occupation of ‘69, the Wounded Knee stand-off, and the Farm Workers Movement. A young Bratt filed into the back of the family station wagon when it was time to protest and grew up around influential figures within his family and community. Bratt’s family often crossed paths with Dolores Huerta, who later became a friend and confidant.  

So when music icon Carlos Santana tapped Bratt to produce, write, and direct a feature film on Huerta—a woman who defined decades of tide-turning movements—he knew he couldn’t refuse.

DOLORES debuted in 2017 at the Sundance Film Festival and has won numerous awards, including a 2018 Peabody Award and a Critic’s Circle Award. The film featured big names, including Hillary Clinton and UCSC Professor Emerita Angela Davis. Bratt says his favorite part of filming DOLORES was getting to know Huerta and her family.

“The heart and soul of the film are Dolores and her children,” Bratt said. “Their family story unfolds within the wider story of her evolution as a political thinker and movement builder. I interviewed all of her children and got to know them as a family. It took time to build trust, but once there was a relationship, they really opened up, shared their reflections, pains, and joys—and always kept it real!” 

“Dolores, who just turned 93, organizes every chance she gets. She is always in motion—and will be so until her last breath.” 

DOLORES was the third film Bratt produced after graduating from UC Santa Cruz in 1986. 

In 1996, Peter released his first feature film, Follow Me Home, which premiered at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival and won the Best Feature Film Audience Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival. In 2009 he wrote, directed, and co-produced La Mission, which received the prestigious Norman Lear Writer’s Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Most recently, Peter was also the director and executive producer of ABC’s “Corazón de América,” the most widely watched episode of the network’s Soul of a Nation series.

Building a community

Growing up in San Francisco’s American Indian community, Bratt has turned his energies to lead The Village SF, a city-wide initiative that will provide access to health care and behavioral health services, cultural resources, housing, an urban indigenous farm, and a place to thrive for the over 18,000 American Indians living in San Francisco. 

“Today the majority of American Indians live in urban centers just like San Francisco, but remain largely invisible and underserved” Bratt says. “The Village SF will hopefully move us in a direction to change that.”

The Village SF initiative has won considerable local, state, and federal support, including from former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, California Governor Gavin Newsom, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed. 

Last week, on April 21, 2023, Bratt and the Village SF team participated in a White House Environmental Justice Roundtable to discuss the challenges that many urban communities of color continue to face. 

“The Village SF—in addition to providing critical social service support, also presents a holistic vision of environmental justice”, Bratt says, “one that is grounded in indigenous values and principles. Many of the systems, laws, policies and practices we live with today need to be reimagined, and indigenous values can help us do just that.”

Attending UC Santa Cruz 

Peter Bratt graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1986 with a B.A. in politics and a newfound love for filmmaking. 

Bratt said that, early in his college years, he had no interest in pursuing film, but thanks to a good friend from Merrill College, and a professor, Vivian Sobchack, Bratt quickly learned he had a new passion.

“I started to realize how so many of my perceptions of the world, of people, of whole groups, of gender and race were informed by the movies and television that I grew up watching and consuming,” Bratt said. “And after that, I realized that I wanted to tell stories.”

When asked what advice he’d offer current students at UC Santa Cruz, Bratt said he would council to not feel pressured to know what “you’re going to do for the rest of your life.”

“Entering as a freshman, I thought that I had to decide what I would be for the rest of my life, and whatever major I chose would determine my fate,” Bratt said. “I think that’s a lot of pressure to put on a young person. I had an amazing circle of friends that taught me that it was okay to take my time and explore. In fact, that’s how I discovered that I wanted to be a filmmaker.”