Opening in theaters close to the time of a Monday holiday in his honor, real life civil rights hero Cesar Chavez finally receives the big screen treatment in the bio-pic movie Cesar Chavez. Winner of the NARRATIVE SPOTLIGHT Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival this month, Cesar Chavez chronicles the life of farmer worker / community organizer Cesar Chavez. A devout Christian (more of a Pope Francis one instead of a Rick Warren one), audiences get a chance to watch the determination and inspiration of a strong willed man hoping to make changes to the broken and burdensome system.
Synopsis: Directed by Diego Luna, Chávez chronicles the birth of a modern American movement led by famed civil rights leader and labor organizer, Cesar Chavez. Torn between his duties as a husband and father and his commitment to bringing dignity and justice to others, Chavez embraced non-violence as he battled greed and prejudice in his struggle for the rights of farm workers. His triumphant journey is a remarkable testament to the power of one individual’s ability to change the system. (c) Lionsgate/Pantalion
The solid strength to Cesar Chavez is the charismatic and believable leading performance from Michael Peña (Crash, End of Watch). He was born to play this role. I also admired the supporting performances from America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson, two actresses I don’t love or hate. The scene with Bobby Kennedy was a better performance than any of the laughable Presidential performances in The Butler. (Yet most critics didn’t notice this was a superior movie.) Cesar Chavez is a timely movie considering issues of economic justice and immigration are hot topics. If anything the movie drags at times but the performances and the importance of the movie are what lasted.
Opening in over 600 screens is a sign of confidence for Lionsgate / Pantalion, which is the Latino smaller studio, off shoot affiliated with Lionsgate. Even a few years ago, I couldn’t imagine a Cesar Chavez movie opening in more than 200 screens for the first weekend of a limited release. This shows how the clout of Latino audiences has emerged as a viable audience. What bodes well for Cesar Chavez is winning an Audience Award at SXSW a festival that doesn’t have a strong Latino presence. This isn’t just a movie for Latinos. Beyond the box office, Cesar Chaves seems primed to play in schools especially in the Southwest part of the country. Balancing a line between niche and mainstream, Pantalion hopes to capture the attention of audiences furthering expanding their influence in a crowded industry. I’m rooting for this studio, and the labor of love Cesar Chavez, to succeed.