Cesar Chavez movie is one of the best movies released in the last decade. It’s not every day you see a Mexican-American labor leader showcased on the silver screen. Cesar Chavez is a national icon, his face printed on postal stamps, school murals, and the cover of Time magazine – he even boats his own national monument, a naval ship and Google doodle in his honour.
Yet despite this, the hero’s accomplishments are unknown to most people. Director Diego Luna wanted to change this by bringing greater awareness of Chavez’ efforts to the public.
The 2014 biographical film follows Cesar Chavez’ (cast as Michael Peña) journey as he builds the United Farm Workers labor union with Dolores Huerta in an attempt to improve 50,000 farm workers’ working conditions in California. Many of these workers were Mexican, and faced racism and abuse at the hands of both their employers and the greater public. They were also unable to afford to feed their families.
Chavez and his union struggle in the face of occasionally violent opposition from the owners of the farms. Some of the nonviolent union campaigns featured in the film are the 1975 Modesto march, the Salad Bowl strike and the Delano grape strike.
The United Farm Workers are known as the first nonviolent group to successfully organise farm workers, and their legacy extends from giving California’s farm workers fair wages and access to toilets and clean water, to raising public awareness of the dangers of pesticides and the hoe tool.
The film premiered at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival and was met with mixed reception. Some critics admired it for its positive representation of the Mexican-American figure, whilst others criticised it for being too simplistic and lacking in nuanced historical representation.
Despite this, the film continues to be worthwhile viewing for anyone who wants to learn more about Mexican-American history and workers’ unions. Chavez’s is considered to be as influential an activist as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Cesar Chavez movie also highlights the ongoing struggle that many farm workers continue to face across the country. California is currently the only state in the U.S. that gives farm workers the right to organise. Even places as close as New York have poor working conditions for farmers, with long hours, no overtime pay and collective bargaining leading to being fired of concern to many.
Other issues farm workers across the country face include a lack of disability insurance and workers’ compensation. Child labor is also a problem in some states.
In light of the film, Luna and the cast have been travelling the country in order to promote the film and create a petition to give Chavez a national holiday on his birthday, March 31. Barack Obama even showed his support for the holiday back in 2008, and again in 2012. However, the resolution still must be passed by Congress before the holiday can become official.
While Chavez passed away in 1993, Huerta, aged 83, continues to be a staunch activist for farm workers’ rights. She assisted in promoting the film, though was disappointed it didn’t contain more history.
The film has helped to combat the underrepresentation of Hispanics in cinema, who despite making up around 24% of movie-goers, are only portrayed in 3% of top grossing films.