Making History

Mexican director Diego Luna’s new film Cesar Chavez is the first big Hollywood movie in years to portray unions and the American labor movement in a positive light. Chavez and the farm workers were often described as the soul of the labor movement. It was brought to the big screen by Pantelion Films, the synergistic partnership between Lionsgate Entertainment and Grupo Televisa that produced last year’s sleeper hit Instructions Not Included.

Diego Luna and his team worked closely over four years with the Cesar Chavez Foundation, the nonprofit that carries on Chavez’ work and continues to achieve progress for farm workers and poor Latino working families. By genuinely portraying Cesar Chavez as a farm worker, a proud Latino,  and an American hero, this film also tells a story about our country relevant to all Americans.

Cesar Chavez has been seen in special showings and festivals such as Austin’s ultra-hip SXSW, but it was released in theaters nationwide on March 28th.  It depicts Chavez battling generations of injustice and mistreatment in the fields by leading farm workers in the historic 1975-1970 Delano Grape Strike. Portraying Filipino and Latino workers joining together in solidarity on the same picket lines, where they endured violence from grower goons and scabs, it highlights how Chavez was the first to apply boycotts to large-scale disputes between employers and unions. And it concludes with farm workers winning the first union contracts in agriculture after five years of relentless struggle and sacrifice.

The film’s moving David versus Goliath story does more than recount historic events during an epic period in American history, a classic battle between field laborers and one of California’s richest industries. It also captures the personal hardships and sacrifices endured by Chavez and his family, and by many other families. It reveals the spirit and humanity of a man who, in is own words, taught “ordinary people to do extraordinary things.” In so doing, he inspired millions of others from all walks of life who never worked on a farm to social and political activism. This story in this film is just one of many stories about our community that will serve as motivation and inspiration for generations to come.

The talented cast includes Michael Peña as Chavez, America Ferrera as his wife, Helen, Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta, and John Malkovich as the patriarch of a huge grape-growing empire. From the beginning of the movie, Chavez makes it clear that only with a union can farm workers overcome the abuse and poverty that plagues their lives. It is a message that is as relevant today as during the events of the 1960s that the film chronicles. The success of this film is critical as it has the potential to spur the creation of many more films of its kind.

“The Chavez family hopes this movie will put a spotlight on challenges that farmworkers continue to face in the fields.  It is our hope that the nation will recommit itself to make sure that the men and women who put food on our tables are treated with dignity and respect,” says Christine Chavez. “The Cesar Chavez Foundation would like to thank the many individuals and organizations that contributed to making the film not only possible but a glowing success in communities across the country.” For more information, visit

Elia Quintana