Directed by: Diego Luna
Chronicling the birth of a modern American movement, Cesar Chavez tells the story of the famed civil rights leader and labor organizer who is shown torn between his duties as a husband and father and his commitment to securing a living wage for migrant California farm workers. A passionate but soft-spoken individual, Chavez (whom the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy once described as “one of the heroic figures of our time.”) chose to embrace a non-violence approach to gain support for his cause as he battled greed and prejudice in his struggle to bring dignity to people. This inspired film shows how Chavez inspired millions of Americans from all walks of life who never worked on a farm to fight for social justice. His triumphant journey is a remarkable testament to the power of one person’s ability to actually change the world.
Back in the early ‘60s the inerrant migrant Mexican and Pilipino farm workers who were picking California grapes were underpaid, treated badly, and Chavez (whose family once owned a farm, but lost it in the depression), determined to help out the farmworkers by organizing them into the United Farm Workers union. At first they tried to strike against the growers, but when that didn’t advance their cause, the UFW began boycotting grapes at the consumer end of the cycle. The Union began asking consumers around California, and then across the country to boycott grapes that weren’t picked by the UFW as well as wines that didn’t employ UFW workers.
This strategy proved t be more effective as their cause for better wages and better working conditions were heard by both consumers and by other unions who supported the cause by backing the UFW. Eventually, the UFW got the attention of then Senator Robert Kennedy, who became a very vocal supporter of the union. After Kennedi’s assignation and Nixon took the White House (agreeing to buy grapes for U.S. troops and exporting the grapes to Europe, Chavez went international, taking his cause to London and enlisting the support of European unions, who also supported the cause. Eventually the growers caved and signed an agreement with the UFW, agreeing to their demands.
This film proves to be very important in today’s society (especially after 12 Years A Slave) as corporate America is once again attempting to squeeze out the smaller guys by enlisting the aid of politicians to attempt to break the backs of unions and refusing to grant minim wages to employees of companies that not only turn billions in annual profits but pay little if any federal taxes (all the while getting huge tax breaks). Yes this is a powerful film and should be seen by everyone so that we don’t fall into the same traps of the past and we continue our quest for social change.
Our only two real complaints with the film lie with when it was depicting Chavez going through his epic 25-day hunger fast, Michael Peña still looked hail and hardy (at least he could have fasted a bit, or they could have used some better makeup to have shown him in a dehydrated state), and at the end of the film (after the main credits and virtually everyone had left the theater) there was a website to go to for more info on Chavez, his foundation, and their continuing work) flashed on the screen. It would have been so much better if that website had occurred earlier so that people might have actually seen it.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular articles and movie reviews.