Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cesar Chavez the Movie

Cesar Chavez the movie is being billed as the story of an “American Hero.” How do you portray the life of a man, a hero, in a movie that is only 1 hour 41 minutes in length? Impossible! But this new movie directed by Diego Luna is able to highlight his heroism, his work and a few of the major events in his life. I highly recommend that everyone should go to see it in the theaters.

The movie Cesar Chavez is an introduction to the man who was moved by the injustices he saw in the fields to dedicate his life to working for the dignity of farm workers. Throughout, the movie is testimony of Cesar’s dedication to the people, the cause and to nonviolence. A quote of his which is posted in the garden near his grave site in Keene, CA gives evidence to this testimony of his life as it simply states, “It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life.”

A few of the highlights of Cesar’s life that this movie is able to illustrate include his leaving his position with the Community Service Organization in 1962 to return to the fields where he could be with the farm workers. Cesar believed “La Causa” could not be founded in an office but that the seeds had to be planted by the organizers being in solidarity with the people. It demonstrates how Cesar along with Dolores Huerta and the support of many others founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers. The Delano Grape Strike and boycott of the table grape growers are the main campaigns focused on by this movie.

The movie shows Robert Kennedy’s participation with the “La Causa” through his participation in a public hearing between the grape pickers and the law enforcement and later a speech in which he called Cesar “one of the heroic figures of our time.”

The movie does attempts to demonstrate the importance of Cesar’s faith to his cause, especially the scene in which he receives the Eucharist as a way to end his hunger strike. Throughout the movie, the image of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is prominently displayed. But one could argue that the movie does not focus enough on his faith life. I personally would have liked to seen more about how his faith moved him especially during the difficult moments of his life. This could have been done by having simple dialogue such as this quote of his, "We're going to pray a lot and picket a lot."

The movie also attempts to show Cesar’s internal family struggles and his inability to adequately divide his time as an organizer, labor leader, father and husband. A number of scenes do depict his inability to connect with his son and the toll his work had on the family. I think that this struggle is truly captured in the words that Cesar wrote in a letter to his hijo, Fernando.

Criticism might include that the movie did not give enough credit to Dolores Huerta and her role as cofounder of the National Farm Workers Association along with Cesar. But she does have a prominent role in this movie about Cesar, so maybe a different movie about her life needs to be made as well.

I am thrilled to see a movie like this open in both English and Spanish nationwide. I saw the English version on opening night but plan to go back and see it again in Spanish. I was glad to see the English version use Spanish language at certain key points such as showing Cesar meeting with farm workers. In my opinion an early organizing meeting had to be in Spanish to be believable. “Si Se Puede” and “Huelga” are phrases that need to remain in Spanish to capture the true meaning to the people who were shouting them. Overall it was a good mix of Spanish and English with subtitles provided at times for those who are not Spanish speakers.

Overall this movie about Cesar and his life is inspiring. It is able to share the story of Cesar Chavez within a country which has largely forgotten his story. He is an American Hero. Hopefully his words and actions inspire us to dedicate our lives to a cause as well.  This hope is reflected in Cesar’s words at the end of his hunger strike in 1968, “When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit our lives are all that really belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines the kind of men we are.”
Cesar Chavez's grave site in Keene, CA

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