@DiegoLuna_ Delivers More Than Expected in #CesarChavezMovie

A movie about the great grape boycott in 1965 can't help but put its key figure in the middle of it

By Amelia Orozco
Published on LatinoLA: March 27, 2014

@DiegoLuna_ Delivers More Than Expected in #CesarChavezMovie

A movie about the great grape boycott in 1965 can't help but put its key figure in the middle of it. "Cesar Chavez," directed by Diego Luna, is a movie about the late civil rights activist and leader. This is no "Grapes of Wrath," although Luna makes it his goal to expose the degrading behavior of those opposing the movement, while also focusing on the triumphs of the dedicated farm workers.

It's an epic film about a giant figure in our nation's history, one that has been silenced for too long. Actor Michael Pe??a plays the leading role, America Ferrera takes on the challenging role of his wife, Helen, and Rosario Dawson interprets Dolores Huerta, Cesar's counterpart, and John Malkovich as the malicious grower.

They filmed in Sonora, Mexico, "because the grape fields look very much like they did in Cesar's day," said producer Pablo Cruz at the Chicago screening. It cleverly puts the viewer in the frontlines with the strikers. In real life, the movement started in Delano, California and unfolded up and down the Central Valley. The close-ups of the workers in the field, shot with hand-held cameras, depict their dirty and wet hands and clothes in the early morning hours. Luna is successful in giving even those who have never been on a farm an acute revelation of what their lives could be like.

Luna used actual fruit-pickers as extras in the film, because, "I wanted those faces to look real. No makeup can substitute for faces that have actually been under the sun it was easier to tell a farm worker how to act on film than tell an extra how to look and act like a farm worker," shared Luna with the Boston Globe.

The film does more than reveal who Cesar Chavez was, especially for those who in this day and age have never heard of him. It gives the people behind the movement a face and most importantly, a voice. And it reveals some truths about the late leader such as his nationality and origins.

Cesar Chavez was born in Arizona and later, after having lost their home in the Great Depression, his family was one of the thousands looking for work on California farms. Later, after having faced racism while serving in the Navy and injustices in the fields, Cesar decided to speak up for the oppressed workers.

This included all workers, Filipino, Hispanic, anyone who needed his help. The founder of the United Farm Workers union was steadfast in the non-violent movement, despite the open barraging of workers in the fields by citizens, police, and even the press. "There is no substitute for hard work," he would say, and even threw some out of the union for retaliating with violence.

The marches and unrelenting fasts were a testament to what his son Paul Chavez shared at the screening recently, "He didn't expect the people to do anything he wouldn't be willing to do himself, the fasts and the marches, that's why he did it," he said.

Although some critics may say the film fails to capture Cesar's true identity, even though Luna does provide a storyline about Cesar's family life. The picture reaffirms that Cesar Chavez was and continues to be an inspiration for many, but the movie is about much more than about one man. It is about strength in numbers, courage in the face of the fiercest opposition, and the hope of a better tomorrow. Focusing on simply one person is to miss the point. Even today, the legacy lives on with every Si se puede chanted anytime a group seeks social justice.

I highly recommend this film, not only because Luna did an excellent job of portraying the workers and their plight, but also because he makes it relevant as it should still be today. Much of our food still comes from the same fields today, and the union continues to fight for workers' rights. For anyone interested in learning more about our nation's rich history, civil liberties, and overall, social change, watching this movie is a good first step.

"We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own." ÔÇôCesar Chavez

By Amelia Orozco @Amelia_Orozco

About Amelia Orozco:
Mi nombre es Amelia Orozco. Aside from my full-time job as Senior Editor and Writer at Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo, I also enjoy freelancing for TeleGu?¡a de Chicago, Extra News, and YouParent.com.
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