Thanks to Diego Luna, movie audiences nationwide will know who Cesar Chavez was and what he meant to the Latino community.
Luna directed the film Cesar Chavez -- starring Michael Peña, Rosario Dawson and America Ferrera -- which chronicles the birth of a modern American movement. It tells the story of the famed civil rights leader who was torn between his duties as a husband and father, and his commitment to securing a living wage for farm workers. Chavez embraced non-violence to battle greed and prejudice in his struggle to bring dignity to the people. He inspired millions of Americans from all walks of life who believed in fighting for social justice.
We caught up with 34-year-old Mexican actor/director to get the scoop on what went in to making Cesar Chavez, the affect he thinks the film will have on Latinos and more.
Read our entire interview with Luna below:
(With additional reporting by Celia San Miguel)
What made you decide to make this film? When did you come up with the idea and how did it all happen?
It came naturally. For years my work and my career have led me to California, and I've lived here on and off. Even my first son was born here. Also, I've had a very close relationship with the Mexican-American community, and so in a way making this movie was an intent to reflect upon the experience of this community. I always wondered why there weren't any films about Cesar Chavez. There are movies about other civil rights leaders in this country, but why not Chavez? I also found that there were very few films that really resonated with the Mexican-American community. The last one I believe was Selena, no? So somehow reflecting upon that and living here in Los Angeles made me naturally take an interest in this issue and Chavez's story.
Okay. And how much did you know about Cesar Chavez's life and what he had accomplished?
Very little, actually. I knew basic things, but very little. The nice thing about my job is that it allows me to look deeper into issues and then tell stories with that information. So in order to learn more, I began speaking with residents in California whom were moved by Chavez's cause and I met members of his family. I even spoke with Helen, Cesar's wife, who is a huge character in this film. I watched documentaries and developed my point of view from there since this was not going to be a documentary, but rather a film. And this meant condensing the information I had obtained as much as possible in order to be able to tell this story in two hours. My hope is that this film will be a good way for the audience to become familiar with and understand not only Cesar Chavez, but his movement.
For you, when speaking wtih Helen, what were some things that you learned about Cesar Chavez that you felt were essential to incorporate into the film? Things about Cesar Chavez's personality that perhaps the world doesn't know.
I think it's always important to talk about the movement. One of the things that became very clear to me is that this is not a movie only about Cesar Chavez . This is a film about a movement and, above all, a community. It is the sense of family I think that was his greatest strength. It was understood they were part of something much bigger, no? That thought of individualism is left to the side. Sure, there are streets and foundations named after Cesar Chavez, but behind Cesar Chavez was his family. Without his family, he would not have been able to accomplish all that he did. So the importance of not only Helen, but also Gilbert and Richard, will be seen in the film. Many were left out of the movie simply because you can't tell everyone's story in such a short amount of time. But for me it was great to display that sense of camaraderie because we're all fighting not only for our children, but for our neighbors. If your neighbor's reality changes, yours will change as well. It was important for me to show that idea of being part of something greater.
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