There haven’t been, to put it mildly, many films about America’s labor movement. Take away Salt of the Earth (1954) and Norma Rae (1979) and what are you left with? Cesar Chavez, then, offers to fill a cavernous void in the public’s knowledge about both union organizing and the history of the country’s mostly Latino agricultural workforce. Directed by the Mexican actor and film producer Diego Luna (Y Tu Mamá También, Elysium), the film follows Chavez (Michael Peña) from the time he parted company with the grassroots Community Service Organization (CSO) to the signing of union contracts with growers following a successful consumer boycott of table grapes.
Working with a screenplay by Keir Pearson, Luna wisely passes on a sweeping Gandhi-style treatment of Chavez’s entire life. This allows Luna and cinematographer Enrique Chediak to linger on the arid poetry of life in California’s Central Valley (played here by Sonora,
When Diego Luna was growing up in Mexico he’d sometimes hear references to Cesar Chavez and the union of farm workers he had organized in America. Luna, who would become one of his country’s leading film stars, remembers being struck as a 13-year-old by television images of Chavez’s funeral – the man was so modest, his coffin was an unpainted wooden box. A few years ago Luna began assembling a production company to film one critical chapter in Chavez’s life – the 10-year period in which he formed the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee and which culminated with the triumph of the consumer grape boycott. Cesar Chavez opens this week and Luna, while in Los Angeles to promote the film, spoke to Capital & Main about the movie, the man and the movement he created.
Capital & Main: Your film is a biography but is there something more behind it?
I think its message is of what we can do when we unite.