Vida En El Valle: Film Features Chávez's Legacy

March 11, 2014

By: Cynthia Moreno

SACRAMENTO — The Diego Luna-directed 'César Chávez' movie, opening nationally on March 28, does not mark the first effort by Hollywood to film the story about the iconic farmworker leader.

"When my father was still alive, he had many Hollywood stars visit him and propose playing his part in a Hollywood film, but he always respectfully declined," said Paul Chávez, César's son and president of the César E. Chávez Foundation.

"At that time, he just thought there were more important things to get done, so time just went by."

Among those who tried unsuccessfully were Robert Redford and Mexican norteño singer Cornelio Reyna.

"There were many reasons why the film didn't happen, until we met Diego Luna and his team," said Chávez during a special pre-screening of 'César Chávez' last Wednesday at the Century Theatre Plaza.

The difference was Luna's enthusiasm, said Chávez. Luna was not familiar with the United Farm Workers story.

He "wanted to get himself as familiarzed with the family and the story of César," said Chávez. "He really took the time to ensure the film would embody him."

Luna's unfamiliarity with César and the farmworker movement that evolved in the 1960s in Delano forced the actor/director to do his homework.

"He spent a lot of time with the family collecting stories, anecdotes and familiarizing himself with the movement before undertaking the project," said Marc Grossman, the labor leader's longtime spokesman and personal aide.

Chávez died in 1993.

The movie — which stars Michael Peña as César; América Ferrera as his wife, Helen; Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta; and, John Malkovich as a wealthy grape grower — began production four years ago.

The movie explores César's self-determination to win equality and respect for farmworkers and the personal sacrifice it cost him.

He is shown having the moral support of his wife, close friends and neighbors, but in the process, doesn't realize he is loosening the ties between being a father and his family life and his role as a labor leader.

As his eldest son Fernando tells his mother in the film, "It would be nice to talk to dad, if he actually listened to me."

Paul Chávez said his father was angered by many things, and used it positively.

"He let his anger motivate him to do something worthwhile because he saw the greatness of this country," said Chávez.

The private screening — which was organized by the Latino Legislative Caucus — drew about 200 people, including lawmakers from both political parties.

Some politicians are a product of Chávez's inspiration.

"I remember the farmworkers organizing in my hometown of Delano," said Assemblymember Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield. "I remember my parents taking part in the boycotts and asking what was going on.

"I didn't understand at that time that I was a witness to one of the greatest movements of our time, and it truly motivated me."

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said Latinos must support the movie.

"This is one of those rare opportunities Hollywood had — and we have as an audience — to hear, learn about and be a witness to the experience of one of our own, and who better than a man whose struggles paved the way for so many of us that are sitting in this theater today," said Lara, chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus.

"We need to start showing support whenever Hollywood makes a film about Latinos, and we need to make that presence known at the box office in terms of numbers," said Lara.

"Many of us met or learned about Chávez when we were growing up. Now is our time to pay tribute to a man who inspired so many of us and is the reason why we are all standing here before you today."

Contact the Reporter: Cynthia Moreno,