Can 'Cesar Chavez' Change Hollywood? Director Diego Luna Thinks So

The Mexican director hopes moviegoers buying tickets to the biopic will show studios that audences want diversity.

'Cesar Chavez' director Diego Luna. (Photo: Fred Prouser/Getty Images)

Mar 27, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

How is a boycott like a Hollywood movie? A willful, organized effort to pressure business interests by not buying their products may seem like the economic opposite of a film with a multimillion-dollar production budget. But in the case of Cesar Chavez, director Diego Luna sees a sort of spiritual connection.

His new movie, which opens tomorrow, recounts the nearly five-year-long grape boycott started by Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the United Farm Workers. The predominately Mexican American organizers and farmworkers in Delano, Calif., and surrounding agricultural areas forged an unlikely bond with white, suburban consumers across the country who believed in their struggle for better wages and improved working conditions. Luna is hoping something similar will happen with moviegoing audiences across the United States and throughout Latin America.

“In a way we are trying to say with this film, something like what happened when the boycott happened, when the grape boycott happened, needs to happen today,” he told me with the kind of earnest enthusiasm that often colors his lightly accented English. “And there’s a chance with a film to do it.” In the 1960s and ’70s, the grape boycott brought attention to the plight of minority farmworkers in California’s San Joaquin Valley. By revisiting that story in 2014, Luna says audiences are taking a stand for a more diverse, multicultural Hollywood.

“If you go and you buy a ticket for this film, you’re allowing this kind of film to exist,” Luna said. “You’re allowing not just these filmmakers to tell these stories but for this community to be represented.”

Community is, in a good sense, a globalized term here. Just as a film by a Mexican director starring American actors of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Honduran, and Cuban descent is more than a story about Latino and Filipino farmworkers, its potential audience isn’t bound by geography, ethnicity, or borders. Luna’s hope is that Cesar Chavez will connect with people in California, the Midwest, and Mexico City alike.

Since his breakout performance in Alfonso Curón’s 2001 film Y Tu Mamá También, Luna, who was born in Mexico City, became a sort of migrant worker in his own right, traveling across the border to take acting jobs in Hollywood. He says that spending time in Southern California—driving down Cesar Chavez Avenue, seeing the UFW flag depicted in so many murals on the Eastside of Los Angeles, noticing all of the schools named for the labor leader—made him realize the outsize role Chavez plays in the Latino experience on this side of the border. Thirteen years later, and now with a Mexican American son of his own, Luna is personally and creatively invested in transcending the border in his work.

“There’s so much in common” between people living in the United States and points south, he says. “We don’t just share languages; we share experiences, we share backgrounds, we share...there are so many connections. But somehow this border, this huge wall that keeps growing between this country and Latin America, has alienated us, has fractured stories, has separated us.”

The United Farm Workers grape boycott didn’t have to cross any fraught international borders to find success, but it did surmount plenty of socioeconomic boundaries that were still deeply entrenched in civil rights–era America. “No one thought in Missouri, in Tennessee, no one thought—and when I say no one, I’m talking about the growers—none of the growers thought they [the organizers] were going to have an impact in Utah, and they did,” Luna said.

His hope—for his film and for a transnational community—is that the story of Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the United Farm Workers will once again transcend those boundaries.

TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, is involved in the production and marketing of Cesar Chavez.