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Severo Perez Papers

Identifier: SWWC-115

Scope and Contents

The papers of filmmaker and writer Severo Perez span 1972-2010 and document his career in film and television, and as a writer. The collection is arranged into six series: 1) Film; 2) Television; 3) Plays; 4) Books; 5) The National Endowment for the Humanities; and 6) Audio and Video Materials.

Perez also donated an extensive amount of audiovisual material which includes film reels and prints for …and the earth did not swallow him as well as many of his other film projects. A complete list of these items can be provided upon request.


  • 1972-2010


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials from the Wittliff Collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. The user assumes responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish, and abiding by U.S. copyright laws.

Biographical Notes

Born in San Antonio, Texas in 1941, acclaimed filmmaker Severo Perez earned his B.A. in American Literature and Contemporary History from the University of Texas. Perez moved to Los Angeles in 1972 to pursue a career in the motion picture industry. His productions have won more than 50 awards, including three CINE Golden Eagles. Perez is also an accomplished playwright and novelist.

Perez began working in theater in 1974, teaming up with legendary actress Carmen Zapata to translate and adapt the Mexican play Los desarraigados (Uprooted) for American audiences. Later, Perez became playwright-in-residence at El Teatro Campesino, where he wrote Soldierboy with his wife, Judith Perez. That play is based on Perez’s own personal story in San Antonio as the son of a returning U.S. soldier after World War II. Soldierboy has been staged around the country and appears in the 1989 anthology Necessary Theater: Six Plays About the Chicano Experience. Perez’s credits as a dramatist also include Speaking of Cats, inspired by Tejana activist Emma Tenayuca and the 1938 pecan shellers strike in San Antonio.

Perez’s 1995 film, …and the earth did not swallow him, is adapted from Tomás Rivera’s classic 1971 Chicano novel, …y no se lo tragó la tierra, and follows the lives of a South Texas family of migrant farmworkers in the 1950s. Perez’s nuanced, powerful film beautifully evokes the substance and spirit of Rivera’s work, and it has won international critical acclaim, including top honors at film festivals worldwide. Some of these honors include the Gold Medal at the 12th Annual Television Movie Awards in 1997, Jury Award at Vina del Mar (Chile) International Film Festival in 1996, Sol Award CineSol at the 1995 Latino Film Festival, Best Feature at the San Diego Independent Film Festival in 1994 and the Minneapolis Rivertown Film Festival in 1995, Best of the Fest Audience Award at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in 1994, and Jury Award for Best Director at the Cairo International Film Festival in 1994.

In 1998, Perez finished a documentary, Willa Brown: An American Aviator, about a remarkable woman—a pioneering African American pilot who took to the air in the 1930s and defied Jim Crow laws. Her efforts led to Congress forming the renowned Tuskegee Airmen squadron. The film is currently distributed by Filmakers Library.

Perez’s other films include a documentary on artist Carmen Lomas Garza: Carmen Lomas Garza: Looking Back; a family drama about a high school girl’s desire to attend college, Dreams of Flying; a documentary about dancer-choreographer Rudy Perez, Countdown: Reflections on a Life in Dance, an adaptation of Mark Twain's The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County; a feature film on Tejano hero Juan Seguin; a documentary about immigrants in Southern California, There Goes the Neighborhood; an animated film about the history of writing, Astronauts and Jelly Beans; a drama about AIDS for young teens, Between Friends, a documentary about four retired African American men, Elders; as well as short documentaries on a wide range of subjects, including La Raza Unida’s 1960s political uprising in Crystal City, Texas. He also negotiated the deal at Universal Studios that allowed Luiz Valdez to direct the film version of Zoot Suit.

In 2012 Perez published his first novel, The Challengers Aero Club, inspired by his documentary on aviator Willa Brown and other pioneering African American pilots in the early 20th century. The book was praised by Kirkus as “an engaging, thorough novel about forgotten heroes of aviation history.”


22 Linear Feet

44 boxes

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations

  • The descriptive data created for this finding aid is licensed under the CC0 Creative Commons license and is free for use without restriction.


The papers of filmmaker and writer Severo Perez span 1972-2010 and document his career in film and television, and as a writer. The bulk of the collection relates to his film work, especially his 1995 film, …and the earth did not swallow him.

Physical Location

Materials may be stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use:

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Severo Perez, 2014.

Guide to the Severo Perez Papers
Russell Hill
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2021: Revised for ArchivesSpace by Susannah Broyles.

Repository Details

Part of the The Wittliff Collections Repository

601 University Drive
San Marcos Texas 78666 USA