For years, one of the most popular genres of film has been that of the biopic. Moviegoers flock to the cinema for the chance to see a film portray the life of an iconic person or celebrity, and pay money for the opportunity to see them play larger than life on the big screen. While there have been biopics of persons such as Ray Charles and Jackie Robinson, never has there been one about renowned labor rights activist Cesar Chavez.
That is, until now.
Mexican director Diego Luna’s big screen telling of Chavez’s heroism will hit screens on March 28, and the director says that getting the film made was no easy task.
“From the very beginning, people told us there was no business for the film, no market for the film,” said 34-year-old Luna. “I started working on the project when I was 30, so that’s a four year process of trying and having things that made us debate quitting. But there was always a feeling of trying to prove people wrong and prove that there was indeed a market for the film as well as a need for a community to be represented on film.”
The film was halfway through production when “Instructions Not Included,” a Mexican film directed by Eugenio Derbez was released. The film grossed nearly $45 million domestically and helped prove to doubters of Luna’s film that there was indeed a market for Mexican language films in the U.S.
Although typically associated with more comedic roles, character actor Michael Peña plays Chavez in the film, and does an outstanding job showing audiences who Chavez really was. America Ferrera (“Ugly Betty”) plays Chavez’s wife Helen, and Rosario Dawson plays Chavez’s friend and fellow labor rights activist Dolores Huerta.
Luna says that Peña was the perfect choice for the role because of his bicultural life.
“Michael is a first generation Mexican-American, so he really understands what it’s like to face some of the adversity that Cesar had faced,” Luna said. “He did a really wonderful job bringing Cesar to life, and I think he really made the Chavez family proud.”
Luna says that Chavez’s wife Helen, the rest of the Chavez family and Huerta gave great insight into making the film and helped portray Cesar as accurately as possible.
“It was really great getting their blessing for the film,” Luna said of the Chavez family. “They were really great at helping me keep the story truthful as to what really happened.”
The film debuted at the annual South By Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, earlier in March, and audiences reacted wonderfully, said the director.
“We got a standing ovation,” Luna said.
In fact, the film got three of them: one for the film, one for the director and one for Huerta, who was in attendance.
“It was incredibly humbling to see the reaction from the audience and I really hope everyone enjoys the film and walks away from it to begin a discussion about how important this part of history was for so many people,” Luna said.
He said that while the film is for all audiences and will surely touch those who can easily remember what happened during Chavez’s time, he hopes it will touch a younger audience.
“I also hope that the film tells a younger audience about this period of time and lets them know about what went into making sure this group of people were treated the way they deserved to be.”
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