Plodding labor leader biopic shows protests, beatings.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Cesar Chavez is based on the life of the famed civil rights activist and labor organizer Cesar Chavez , who started working in the fields at 11 and grew up watching the injustices inflicted on farm laborers. Expect some scenes of intense, realistic violence (e.g. characters are beaten with rifles) as farmers and police attack groups of unarmed protesters. Occasional language is strong and includes several uses of "f--k," and "s--t." A Latino character talks about all the racial slurs people have used to describe him, including "beaner," "greaser" and "brown 'N' word." Though the movie is predictable, the characters of Chavez and his partner Dolores Huerta make for outstanding role models who have inspired folks to fight for social justice using nonviolent means.
Good message, beware of language
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What's the Story?
Cesar Chavez (Michael Peña) started working in the fields of Arizona at 11, and grew up watching his family, friends, and other workers be exploited by wealthy farm owners. Vowing to reform the industry, he helped found the United Farm Workers labor union with Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson), and organized protests, strikes, and a national grape boycott that eventually forced the powerful growers led by a character played by John Malkovich to negotiate, in this biopic directed by Mexican actor and director Diego Luna.
Is It Any Good?
No doubt Cesar Chavez, the man, makes the perfect subject for a biopic; his life and achievements deserve to be cemented on-screen, but Cesar Chavez, the film, does a lackluster job of doing so. Peña succeeds in bringing the civil rights icon to life, but his Cesar lacks charisma and doesn't hold the audience's gaze throughout the film, failing to inspire. It doesn't help that his arc is told in a predictable and linear manner. With so much rich material to work with, surely the filmmakers could've found a more interesting way to tell his story?
That said, Cesar Chavez does illuminate a crucial figure, time, and place in our history. Rarely do you see a Latino story on the big screen in which the majority of the cast in front of and behind the scenes is also Latino. It is the story of how ordinary people, without resources, but with will and creativity, drive changes that end up benefiting many in society. And while Peña's performance may seem weak, those who knew Chavez point out that he was shy and introverted; he didn't have MLK's gift of the gab, but he was able to organize and mobilize people against all odds. Teens and adults who watch the film may find themselves surprised by the intricacies of the movement: the role Filipino migrant workers played; Chavez's personal life, and how it fared against the larger backdrop of history in the making. Not enough insight is dispensed, however, to rescue Cesar Chavez from a severe lack of momentum.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the farm-labor movement shown in Cesar Chavez. What did you know about this issue before watching the movie? What did you learn? What do you think about the conditions of the workers? How did they manage to change the industry?
Are you shocked by the violence Chavez and the other protesters endure? How realistic is the depiction of violence? Would the movie have the same impact without the violence?
How do Chavez's efforts to lead a social movement affect his family life? What's the ultimate message of the movie?
- In theaters: March 28, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: July 22, 2014
- Cast: Michael Pena, Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera
- Director: Diego Luna
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models, History
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some violence and language
- Last updated: March 8, 2023
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