New Documentary Explores the Secret Life of Loreta Velazquez — Cuban immigrant, Confederate Soldier turned Union Spy
Shrouded in mystery and long the subject of debate, the amazing story of Loreta Velazquez is one of the Civil War’s most gripping forgotten narratives. While the U.S. military may have recently lifted the ban on women in combat, Loreta Janeta Velazquez, a Cuban immigrant from New Orleans, was fighting in battle 150 years ago — one of the estimated 1000 women who secretly served as soldiers during the American Civil War. Who was she? Why did she fight? And what made her so dangerous that she has been virtually erased from history? Directed by María Agui Carter, REBEL premieres as a special presentation of the Latino Public Broadcasting series VOCES ON PBS, airing nationally on PBS on Friday, May 24, 2013 at 10:00 p.m. ET (check local listings).
Deftly weaving lushly dramatized scenes of Loreta’s riveting tale with historical commentary and archival material, REBEL explores the story of a complex woman, a myth and the politics of national memory. The story of a wealthy Cuban planter’s daughter sent to New Orleans in 1849, REBEL chronicles Loreta’s rebellious relationship with her traditional family and her early marriage to an American soldier known only as William. After the devastating sudden death of William and her three young children, Loreta turned her grief into transformation. She embarked on a new secret life, disguising herself as a man and, under the name of Harry T. Buford, served first as a soldier in the Confederate Army and later as a Union spy.
REBEL is based on Loreta’s 600-page memoir, A Woman In Battle, which caused a sensation when it was published in 1876 and remains in print to this day. For over a century, Loreta was dismissed as a liar and a prostitute, but new evidence indicates she was no hoax. “Loreta’s memoir gives us rare insight into war from a woman and a Latina’s point of view. She was an immigrant serving her country by fighting for it, as so many generations have done. Growing up in New Orleans she naturally aligned herself with the South and even kept a slave, but records show she would end up spying for the North. She was a complex woman who ultimately turned against war as a solution to the world’s problems,” says writer/director María Agui Carter. Although Loreta’s memoir, which most historians acknowledge to be somewhat embellished, was dismissed as a hoax for over a century, historians have recently discovered documents in the National Archives as well as newspaper articles and letters proving that she did indeed exist. “Loreta Velazquez was a rebel who flouted all the rules to become a part of American history,” says Ms. Agui Carter.
“We’re delighted to present REBEL as a special presentation of VOCES ON PBS,” says Latino Public Broadcasting’s Executive Director Sandie Viquez Pedlow. “The film rescues this fascinating story from obscurity, and shines a light on an amazing Cuban American woman who was not afraid to defy expectations and blaze her own path.”
REBEL is a co-production of Iguana Films, L.L.C. and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), in association with WPBT2/Miami and Latino Public Broadcasting with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
About the Filmmakers
María Agui Carter (Writer/Producer/Director) emigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador, grew up an undocumented “Dreamer” in New York City and graduated from Harvard College. A filmmaker and scholar, she has won George Peabody Gardner, Warren and Rockefeller Grants, been a visiting scholar at Harvard and Tulane, and her work has shown at film festivals and been broadcast internationally. Based in Boston, she is an advocate for Latino and social issue filmmakers, serving as Chair of NALIP, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.
Calvin Lindsay, Jr. (Producer) has worked in television production for more than two decades, beginning at WGBH-TV where he served as Series Producer for Say Brother, one of public television’s longest running local series. Lindsay has produced seven Emmy Award winning documentaries and productions and has collaborated on countless others.
About the Participants, in Order of Appearance
Catherine Clinton is a noted Civil War scholar, with a focus on women in the war.
Renee Sentilles is an Associate Professor of History at Case Western University.
Kirsten Silva Gruesz is a Professor in the American Studies Department of UC Santa Cruz.
Christina Vella is author of Intimate Enemies and an expert on the history of the Spanish in New Orleans.
Jesse Aleman is a Professor at the University of New Mexico specializing in nineteenth-century American and Chicano literature.
Vicki L. Ruiz is Dean of Humanities at UC Irvine and a scholar of U.S History and Latino studies.
DeAnne Blanton is a Senior Military Archivist at the National Archives.
Elizabeth D. Leonard is Chairman of the History Department at Colby College and a Civil War scholar.
Richard Hall (deceased) is the author of Women on the Civil War Battlefront.
Carman Cumming is a journalist and Civil War scholar.
Gary W. Gallagher is the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia.
About the Cast
Romi Dias (Loreta Velazquez) was seen opposite Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony in the film El Cantante and as the girl gang leader Juanita in the film All Night Bodega. Romi has had appearances as various characters on Law & Order, as well as the series Third Watch. She has appeared in dozens of theatre productions and is a graduate of the Meisner program at Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts and is a recipient of the Princess Grace Award for Acting.
About Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB)
Latino Public Broadcasting is the leader in the development, production, acquisition and distribution of non-commercial educational and cultural media that is representative of Latino people, or addresses issues of particular interest to Latino Americans. These programs are produced for dissemination to public broadcasting stations and other public telecommunication entities. Latino Public Broadcasting provides a voice to the diverse Latino community throughout the United States and is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds, presents, and promotes award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the web, and the Emmy® Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens on Monday nights at 10 PM on PBS. Mandated by Congress in 1988 and funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, ITVS has brought more than 1,000 independently produced programs to American audiences to date. For more information about ITVS, visit itvs.org.
South Florida’s premier public broadcaster, WPBT2, is a community-licensed, not-for-profit media enterprise serving communities from the Treasure Coast to the Florida Keys. WPBT2 provides high quality content from PBS, independent acquisitions and its own original productions.
PBS, with its over 350 member stations, offers all Americans the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and online content. Each month, PBS reaches nearly 120 million people through television and nearly 28 million people online, inviting them to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs; to hear diverse viewpoints; and to take front row seats to world-class drama and performances. PBS’ broad array of programs has been consistently honored by the industry’s most coveted award competitions. Teachers of children from pre-K through 12th grade turn to PBS for digital content and services that help bring classroom lessons to life. PBS’ premier children’s TV programming and its website, pbskids.org, are parents’ and teachers’ most trusted partners in inspiring and nurturing curiosity and love of learning in children. More information about PBS is available at www.pbs.org, one of the leading dot-org websites on the Internet, or by following PBS on Twitter, Facebook or through our apps for mobile devices. Specific program information and updates for press are available at pbs.org/pressroom or by following PBS Pressroom on Twitter.
Mary Lugo 770-623-8190 firstname.lastname@example.org
Cara White 843-881-1480 email@example.com
Abbe Harris 908-233-7990 firstname.lastname@example.org
For downloadable images, visit pbs.org/pressroom.