If you associate the name Cesar Chavez with street signs and public buildings more than with a civil rights activist and labor leader, revisiting the events that took place in Delano, Calif., in the mid-1960s may come as something of a shock. Organizing efforts by the United Farm Workers of America, a union that Chavez led, were met with dramatic, sometimes violent, resistance—drama that plays a central role in Diego Luna’s forthcoming film, Cesar Chavez, coproduced by TakePart's parent company, Participant Media.
Starring Michael Peña as the Mexican American civil rights leader, with Rosario Dawson playing Dolores Huerta and John Malkovich as the less-than-benevolent packinghouse owner, the film focuses on the fight for labor rights in the vineyards and lettuce fields of California. Beyond issues of breaks, water access, and day-to-day working conditions, Chavez and the UFW were fighting for equality, for the right to be treated fairly and equally, rather than as second-class citizens.
“You can’t oppress someone who is not afraid anymore,” Peña’s Chavez says at the end of the trailer. Encouraging that resolve in others, from farmworkers in Delano to urban Chicano activists in Los Angeles, is what made Chavez a great leader—and an American hero.