By David Combest
April 16, 2014
Director and actor Diego Luna has created a beautiful and powerful film in his first English language motion picture, “Cesar Chavez.”
The film is a biopic of Mexican-American labor activist Cesar Chavez and his struggle for farm workers’ rights through his cofounding of the United Farm Workers organization. The film follows Chavez as he works to organize 50,000 farm workers who suffer under poor work conditions including dealing with low pay and no washrooms in the fields among other injustices. The workers are met with racism from the farm owners as well as townspeople, which increases as Chavez continues to organize them. Meanwhile, at home, Chavez struggles to maintain a relationship with his son who is faced with racism at school and feels that his father does not care about anything but the political movement.
Luna does a wonderful job directing the film, using shots of the actors’ faces in order to let them give a non-verbal communication of what the characters are actually feeling. As Chavez becomes more successful in his work, the media attention grows; this is where Luna injects actual footage of the events featuring Chavez, along with those who try to oppress the workers.
The most notable opposition to these workers came from then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan, even going so far as to call the movement “immoral.” I can’t help but laugh at the absurd statements made by Reagan, knowing full-well his true “morals” that showed in the Iran-Contra affair, among many other acts during his administration.
The pace of the film is well done and the acting is amazing. Michael Peña delivers an emotional performance, making for a convincing depiction of Chavez. America Ferrera (“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” “Ugly Betty”) is perfect in the role of Chavez’s wife Helen, showing the amazing things that she had done to help the cause, even going to jail in order to move the cause forward. John Malkovich (“Burn After Reading,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) uses his well-famed skill and talents to play the role of the oppressive farm owner.
The film is extremely contemporary and timely as ever. Even today, we see the victims of a system that use human beings as a means to an end, stripping them of basic worker and human rights and cheating them out of a living wage. Greed has grown to mass levels that classism, racism, sexism and oppression have run rampant. All the while, the few that stay in power continue to thrive off of a seriously broken system. Wages have been cut and democratic rights are under constant threat.
The artist has a responsibility to show life in all its aspects and for too long now we have been fed with surface problems of unrealistic character. I thank Luna for showing lives of those in reality and for taking up the responsibility too many artists in entertainment today choose to ignore.