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‘Cesar Chavez’ struggles of an activist and man

Cesar Chavez


The hopes and dreams of workers and humanity unite in this biopic of Cesar Chavez. This is not merely about how the UFW was founded, nor even the life of Chavez, but more importantly the rights of men and women to be treated and compensated with dignity and respect.
Chavez, Michael Peña, gives an honest and warm portrayal of the political activist who recounts at the beginning how he came from Arizona where his father owned a farm to Delano California to be demoted as a grape picker. Chavez and his wife, Helen, America Ferrara, had eight children, but only one, his eldest son Fernando, Eli Vargas, is highlighted in the film. Here they use the torturous relationship he had with him as a metaphor for how Chavez had a schism between himself and the movement he struggled for. Chavez promotes non-violence to the extent that even fighting back against the school bullies who are tormenting his son is something he refuses to do. Thus, when Fernando tries to tell his father about it, his response (to relate how he has been taunted) falls flat. This response is an all too common theme between parents reaching out, and the angst of teens.
John Malkovich gives an interesting and oddly conflicted performance as grower, Bogdonvich Senior, who in one breath says that he started out with nothing and built his business, and in the next demeans the workers by insisting they dictate terms to the workers and treat them as children. Additionally, he is the only grower who actually speaks Spanish, yet in a meeting with the growers he is the only one who is adamantly against negotiating with them.
“Chavez” spends more time on the cause they fought for and only uses the human side of Chavez as a backdrop for the story. This hurts the film because so little of who the man himself was is shown to the extent that at times if feels as they had a check off list of things they wished to stress (such as the credit union, the Union Newspaper, and the pledge of non-violence) instead of just telling the story. This gave the film a dull feel, rather than one which could have strengthened the story through character development and the small moments that make up life.