The long-awaited and highly anticipated film “Cesar Chavez,” directed by Mexican actor and producer Diego Luna, is a work that was not as good as it could have been. Nonetheless, it was much needed, and therefore, is much appreciated.
“Cesar Chavez” recalls key moments in the struggle of the peasant leader who fought for farm workers’ rights in the town of Delano, Calif.
This fight began in the ‘60s. Agricultural workers were treated as inferiors, who did not hold any protection against abuse from stewards and landowners.
Within the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, Filipino workers organized the first strikes against the bosses, demanding fair wages and just working conditions.
After overcoming some disagreements, Latinos, with Cesar Chavez at the helm, would join them.
The film touches on the milestones in Chavez’ fight for social justice—the boycott of the purchase of grapes, the march to Sacramento, the Senate hearing, the hunger strike, and imprisonment for the cause.
Though the historiographical work of the film is excellent, the characters lack depth.The story feels forced, as it strives to ‘comply’ with historical sequence and accuracy. This causes some choking in the narrative. A specific example of this poor narrative scene that captures the hunger strike.
Adorned in a sweetened Hollywood style gift wrap, “ Cesar Chavez” is made to bring elicit good-feelings, and be an overall feel-good movie for the audience.
The film is a Mexico-U.S. co-production and is distributed in the United States by Lionsgate Entertainment and Grupo Televisa under the rubric of Pantelion Films.
It is comprised with multitude of media and includes renowned actors such as Michael Peña (Cesar Chavez), America Ferrera (Helena Chavez), and Rosario Dawson (Dolores Huerta).
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How does it feel to be part of a project about such a renowned Latino leader?
I am honored to use Cesar Chavez as an example to talk to new generations who may not know the story.
I think Cesar Chavez has not been celebrated enough. He is celebrated in California but is ignored in other states. A clear example is that there was no movie about him.
I want to send a message to the people making decisions in this country. We want our stories to be represented in film, we want our community to be celebrated through movies.
A country that creates stories about heroic historical figures had not considered to celebrate not only Caesar, but the farmworker movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and its great achievements.
Some years ago you founded Canana Films to produce and distribute socially engaged Latino films. Is this how you got involved in this project?
We are a company that started many years ago in Mexico. We have made more than 20 films.
We opened an office in California and began to consider how to connect with the audience here at the other side of the border; an audience that has so much to do with us with which we are so disconnected.
It felt like a great first step to tell the story of Cesar Chavez in order to get started on that chance to share our stories and celebrate each other.
Filmmaking, as a director, takes three or four years of your life. If you are honest, you end up talking about things that concern you.
How was the script developed?
The work of writing the script was in close contact with the family, especially with Paul Chavez, Cesar’s youngest son, who leads the Cesar Chavez Foundation. We did a lot of research with them.
Marc Grossman, who worked with Cesar for many years, also advised us a lot. He was Cesar’s public relations person, he helped write his speeches.
We also had meetings with Helen Chavez (Cesar’s wife), and Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers (UFW) who helped us understand what made Cesar different, how it was that he won people’s confidence. Our script got enriched as we interviewed more people who were close to him.
The interviews were what provided us with the small intimate details that allowed us to tell a true story.
Are they going to subtitle the film into Spanish for Latinos in the United States?
We’ve thought of that and it is somewhat complicated. What about people who cannot read? There will be some movie theaters where you’ll be able to watch the film dubbed into Spanish.
There will also be an application that will allow your phone to sync with the film. Families in which the first and second generation speak perfect English but parents or grandparents do not can go and share the movie together.
—Translation Alfonso Agirre