Weeks before the new César Chávez movie hits U.S. movie theaters, a major promotional push has begun, including a call in the Huffington Post by the President of the United Farm Workers for a national day of service tied to the movie. Directed by Diego Luna and starring Michael Peña, America Ferrara, Rosario Dawson, and John Malkovich, private screenings of the film have begun, as well social media postings about reactions to the film.
One recent public Facebook post caught our attention since it began to show up in the news feeds of several Rebeldes. Earlier today, Chamba Sanchez posted publicly on Facebook about why he is not supporting the movie, alleging that the film’s producers, Pantelion Films, “fired unionized workers and outsourced part or the entire production to Mexico.” Here is the full post:
I got an email yesterday asking me if I would like to help promoting Cesar Chavez’s movie. Why would I help the man in the left get richer?
In light of the problem currently facing farm workers, I am not sure if it is a good thing that people should profit from this man’s great work. I have to say that I have great respect for his work. Hence, I wholeheartedly believe that, although Cesar Chavez was not perfect, he belongs in the pantheon with those men who dared to challenged the status quo and changed the world for the better. Indeed, this community is better because this man’s courage.
Furthermore, I am currently researching into allegations that people behind this movie fired unionized workers and outsourced part or the entire production to Mexico. This is quite disturbing. If this is the case, Cesar Chavez must be spinning in his grave. And a bigger question: Why his family would agree to this?
Finally, the people who really need help are the Farm Workers. Their union has really shrank and these workers are facing the very same daunting challenges if not worst than the ones they faced when they were being led by Cesar Chavez. Sigh
Sanchez’s post led to several comments from others, specifically focusing on the fact that Dolores Huerta was not consulted during the making of the film. One public comment came from Martha Escutia, a former California state senator. Here is what Escutia posted on Sanchez’s post:
There’s a split between Dolores Huerta and the UFW — don’t know the exact reasons why she left but its common knowledge. I would be interested to know more about the alleged firings. But if the movie is good, I don’t mind for Diego Luna to “get rich.” In fact I don’t mind for people to get rich if its a result of hard work. And frankly, these are the type of stories that should be told by Hollywood producers, not the BS stories of gang members and films such as American Me. More power to Diego Luna for breaking the cycle of “Latino gang” stories. So I will support his movie
Sanchez then responded to Senator Escutia:
I agree Senator Escutia, these stories need to be told. But these stories must be told as they happened and not just carefully select and sanitize parts that would make us feel good. There must be always room for the inconvenient truth. We should always endeavor to critically examine our leaders’ legacies and learn from both their successes and their blunders. I would argue that the latter is more important than the former. Really, Dolores Huerta was utterly left out? ***sigh***
Another post from someone who has already seen the movie was also shared publicly today by Patricia Guadalupe.
Michael Peña did a nice job portraying Chávez as did America Ferrara playing his wife Helen and Rosario Dawson playing Dolores Huerta. BUT and here is the big BUT. the script fell flat. way flat. if you have no idea about his life then you’d have a hard time following the story. It does an absolutely bad job of explaining everything, including why boycott grapes (and not some other fruit or vegetable, and there is a key reason why grapes), why have a march to Sacramento, how the Teamsters treated them all like crap, why RFK’s support was so important to the cause, who are some of the key secondary players, like the hippie lawyers and the Teatro Campesino. The problem with this movie is that while the producer and director is a famous Mexican actor (Diego Luna), he is not versed in the Chicano California experience and so he didn’t think to talk with Luis Valdés or lawyer Phil Montes among others to give this movie needed context and depth. It skirts along and pays too much attention to Chávez’s relationship with his broody teenage son and doesn’t pay nearly enough attention to how important Dolores Huerta was to the development and success of his work. The whole thing with the son is way too hollywoody. And the way the whole movie was shot makes it feel like a made for TV movie and not a big screen movie. I give it a B- and would suggest you save your money and wait for it on Redbox!
Allegations about the use of non-union actors in the film surfaced in a 2012 post published by Latina Lista. The author used the pseudonym of Lisa Mendoza. Here is an excerpt:
A casting notice came my way from the same casting director saying that several roles were still available for the Chavez film and they were all “NON-UNION, ARIZONA LOCAL HIRES ONLY.” I had to re-read that several times because I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
A film centered on the theme of unionism is hiring non-union actors to tell the story?
That did not make sense. I called my agent and sure enough the breakdowns said the roles re-released were all non-union and he couldn’t send me in for an audition. Breakdowns are the acting job announcements released by producers and studios that go out to agents as to what roles are available for actors to audition for.
I began to feel an unmitigated rage swell up inside me that the producers would go the non-union route to fill the smaller day player roles and one-line roles.
Latino Rebels did reach out this afternoon to Pantelion Films to comment about the allegations. Once we hear from them, we will share the company’s response.
I don’t have any problem with hiring non-union members. Unionized film workers can be very expensive for a low-budget film production, especially if this is a one-time thing. I should emphasize that sometimes unions can break companies. I know of one that was put out of business because their high printing cost to the consumer. In this case, both the workers and the small printer were the fatalities. The union bosses most of the time don’t care. They just want their cut of the pie – the bite.
I support the film but I will also critique the process of its making. It is outright hypocritical to do a film about a labor history and use non union labor just to make one person wealthy. I totally disagree with Escutia that is why we are so divided we compromise on moral issues. We don’t need more hero worship, he is presented as such a perfect leader that it makes it dififcult for young people to understand that organizing is messy, many mistakes are made. Important historical events are led not by angels or perfect peopel but by ordinary people achieving extraordinary goals. As for me I am sick an tired of the historicla erasure of Dolores Huertas who had a muuuch greater role than she is given credit in this film. Also, the Chavez Family has become like the MLK family a protector of the holy grail so that no negative (true) things are told by these films (the Mandela movie was more real). It is a shame that the liberal press ignores this and only the more courageous parts of the social media attempt to be truthful. Thanks Latino Rebels!
Applying your logic – produce would/should cost less if non-union farm workers were used — the farmers pay them less (in wages and benefits). Or – using undocumented (e.g. illegal) workers is even less expensive for the growers. Cesar Chavez himself (multiple reported accounts) denounced the hiring of illegal aliens. “Union members were told to ‘report the presence of immigrants in the fields’ and ‘demand that INS deport them.'”
I don’t recall the movie showing even one Anglo farm worker.
I question whether Chavez would approved of, or sanction, a movie made with purpose/intent of proclaiming a national day to honor him. He was asked if he wanted to be remembered by statues & public memorials; his reply: “If you want to remember me, organize!”
(And this occurring at a time when UFW membership has dwindled to about 6,000??? Membership grew to about 50,000 under Chavez. There are currently about 749,000 farm workers in the U.S.)
This provides more insight to understanding why some of his children have said the UFW “should be more focused on workers, rather than finding ways to bring money in.”
Chavez: “Being of service is not enough. You must become a servant of the people.” It seems this wasn’t just a sound byte to him – he LIVED it. His work ethic “There is no substitute for hard work, 23 or 24 hours a day” (hmm, y’think he’d support drawing unemployment and not working for approx. half the year???)
Certainly Chavez’ accomplishments were many, and legend. He possessed an intelligence, logic and common sense that far surpassed his formal education of only 7 or 8 years. However, the structure of the UFW, and key (management) personnel – well, it just wasn’t organized to survive after Cesar’s death. And it seems he was spot on in his views about illegal alien workers undermining the union.
I will stop short of saying his efforts were in vain – but it’s clear we’ve regressed.
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