Cesar Chavez Movie Review by Edgardo
The Movie “Cesar Chavez” is well worth seeing, let’s make that clear. The history of the entire American Labor Movement has been obscured over the years and the story of the United Farm Workers is no exception. The film brings us back to a David and Goliath moment in time when a group that traditionally had little to no power and influence could force an entire industry to come to the bargaining table. It is doubtful that it could happen again. Times have changed, people have changed, complacency rules the day, and as far as Organized Labor goes, in many ways it killed itself off, but an entire power structure was arrayed against it as well, under the banner of free trade, international competition, outsourcing and so on. Also mainstream media became totally corporatized and controlled, and both parties knelt at the money flowing from their special interest masters. Farm workers had it even worse than their union brethren in the rapidly disappearing factories.
Politically they would get lip service and not much else.
But for that one shining period of the 60’s and 70’s, Filipinos, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans actually won a seat at the table. And this is an amazing story, Well told, well acted, and produced. Perhaps by necessity it is one sided. To tell the whole story would take a mini-series, or something similar in length.
Workers that for whatever reason can’t quit, are going to be exploited. When that job is the only way to survive, and there is nowhere else to go, then people put up with almost anything.
Michael Pena is Cesar Chavez. His deadpan expressions and subtle reactions are well played. But you can see the stitching in this performance piece. We never really believe that this is Cesar Chavez, we believe this is Michael Pena playing the part. Cesar’s female counterpart or perhaps more accurately, major cohort was Dolores Huerta. She was the glue that held the organization together, while Chavez took care of leadership and inspiration of the troops.
John Malcovitch plays the leader of the grape growers, and he always brings with him a fascinating weirdness and aura of strangeness. Attempts are made to flesh out his character, but like so many in this film he remains more or less one dimensional.
The California fields and work camps of the 1960’s are faithfully recreated and we get a feel of that time from half a century ago during a tumultuous time that set the stage for much of this era of American history.
Cesar Chavez was famous for his fasting and non-violence as well. Sort of a Mexican-American Ghandi. A fascinating man in a fascinating time; and the same issues he and the farm workers dealt with back then still are with us today…They won’t go away. Go see the movie. It is only a beginning.
Michael Pena as Cesar Chavez
America Ferrera Mrs. Chaves
Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta
John Malkovich as head grape grower
Jacob Vargas, Yancey Arias, Wes Bentley, Mark Moses, John Ortiz, Gabriel Mann, Eli Vargas, Michael Cudlitz, Darion Basco, Noe Hernandez, Hector Suarez, Jack Holmes, Julian Sands
Director: Diego Luna