Viernes Video: Diego Luna explains why it was important for him to make the film “Cesar Chavez”

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LatinaLista — At a recent Washington screening for his new English-language directorial debut, Cesar Chavez, Diego Luna explained to the audience one of the reasons he wanted to make the film — for his Mexican-American-born son.

He said that when his son was born he wanted to learn about notable US Latinos, of which he could tell their stories to his son. He discovered Cesar Chavez but also discovered there was no film made about this Latino Civil Rights trailblazer. So, he decided to make one.

Cesar Chavez: An American Hero , starring Michael Pena, America Ferrara, Rosario Dawson and John Malkovich, doesn’t just recount the life of Cesar Chavez but “chronicles the birth of a modern American movement.”

Torn between his duties as a husband and father and his commitment to bringing dignity and justice to others, Chavez embraced non-violence as he battled greed and prejudice in his struggle for the rights of farm workers. His triumphant journey is a remarkable testament to the power of one individual’s ability to change the system.

The film opens in theaters on March 28.

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One Comment;

  1. marshall ganz said:

    Friends,
    The fact the Chavez movie is of such interest to a rising generation of activists, especially in the Latino community, underscores the travesty of what is a profound mischaracterization of Cesar’s leadership, of his movement, or of the significance it held in the broader American context. That such films can be made should have been known to director Luna as he played a role in that that did just that: Milk. Harvey Milk, the leader, the movement he led, and their significance came through as loud an clear in that film as they were misrepresented in this one.

    Chavez was not a loner, as he is repeatedly depicted in this film, never even drove himself, once the strike got going, never shouted in picket lines, and was noted for his “uncharismatic” style of speaking. His power was in his capacity to build relationships.. . . with former CSO colleagues he brought into the FWA (Padilla, Huerta, and others less known), with Mexican immigrant farm worker families as lived in Delano, with colleagues among the anglo clergy who worked with him from the beginning (Hartmire, Drake, never depicted), with activists from the civil rights movement (where ideas for boycotts came from, as well as the first picket lines of liquor stores, also never depicted), and, yes, with American labor leaders (where much funding and other support came from, barely mentioned), and with students of all colors (who were among the fist boycott volunteers). These relationships were critical to the movement he built as whey were interpersonal, inter organizational, and inter institutional at a time when the country was in a period of intense racial polarization. That Chavez was able to build a movement deeply rooted in ethnic pride and cultural identity, so much so that it sparked the Chicano student movement birthed in the walkouts in East LA High Schools in 1968 (depicted in an excellent HBO film called “Walk-Out”, yet which welcomed other identities, perspectives, and contributions, was one of its major strengths. He took the meaning of “mestizaje” to a whole other level. Either the film makers were ignorant of this or it did not fit with what seemed to be a rather narrow, if not nationalist, agenda, one which Chavez would have found appalling. So instead of Chavez as leaders of a diverse, creative, and every evolving leadership team, we see Chavez as mainly hanging out with his family, Gilbert Padialla, from time to time, and a radically diminished Dolores Huertra, whose leadership was reduced to a triviality. And a comically hippy Jerry Cohen, who, by the way, never earned $5/week. In the centrality of father and son issues, Luna’s film seemed to be driven far more by Luna’s concerns than by those of Chavez.

    Chavez was also a master strategist, mentored by Fred Ross (whose role in the film seems to be mainly as a nay sayer), Saul Alinsky to some extent, by also an autodidact who studied the lives of the saints, Gandhi, Gandhi’s opponent, Churchill, and whatever sources he could lay his hands on, all of which became evident in the way moves were planned to yield maximum impact, opportunities, to turn the tables on opponents, etc. The film shows none of the brainpower that went into building this movement, depicting Chavez mainly as rather stolid, persistent, and, from time to time, passionate. What a disservice to young leaders aspiring to learn from his example.
    He was a learner, a teacher, and the kind of pool player who love carom shots because of their indirection, or, as he used to say, “killing two birds with one stone . . and keeping the stone.”
    Because the the utter lack of context in which the story is told, events just seem to happen, to pop up out of no where, their strategic dimension having been entirely removed,. Also, a very poor lessons to teach.

    The farm workers, alas, are props in this play. What difference did this movement actually make in their lives? What did it mean to actually have a union as opposed to not having one? And what happened? The fact that farm workers lives today are, if anything, harder than we began this movement, is lost in the sentimental mist of “the voices of the poor being heard” with which the film concludes, apparently reflecting the depth of political understanding the film makers brought to their portrayal of this intensely political figure, who did not suffer sentimental fools lightly.

    Alas I could go on an on with not just factual misrepresentation (the person to lose their life on a farm worker picket line was not Juan de la Cruz, but a young Jewish student volunteer, Nan Freeman, picketing a sugar plant in Florida, and, the second, two days before Juan was killed, was a Yemeni immigrant, Nagi Daifullah, beaten to death by a Kern County Sheriff), but with the deliberate misrepresentations that characterize this misbegotten account of the work of a gifted man, building a creative movement, at a challenging time. And not only his work. . . but the work of the thousands of people, on the farms and in the cities, in the churches and in the factories, in the schools and on the streets, that combined to open a window of opportunity for America’s farm workers for evan a few years.

    The one redeeming feature is that it is a bad film, as a film, so perhaps few people will see it. The tragedy is that such a great opportunity for teaching, learning, and real inspiration was wasted by film makes whose main achievement apparently was to sell themselves to the Chavez family and a story they wanted to tell. That’s fine for a family album, but not as the basis on which to portray a great public figure, his public work, and his contribution to our public world. For shame!

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