Diego Luna is Mexican, but his first English-language film as a director is a truly American story — a biopic about the migrant farmworker leader Cesar Chavez and the grape boycott of the late 1960s.
“The whole thing that we have to remind everyone is that this is an American story,” Luna, who got his first break stateside in the Sundance film Y Tu Mama Tambien back in 2001 and is now behind the lens directing Cesar Chavez, tells EW. “In fact it’s an amazing story for Mexicans to hear because there are a lot of connections, but we’re telling the story of a man who was born in Arizona. We’re telling the story of a community that works and feeds America.”
It’s surprising that there hasn’t yet been a big film about the influential labor leader, but with the immigration debate in full swing, the time seems ripe for more of a focus on Chavez. This week at Sundance the documentary Cesar’s Last Fast debuted; Luna’s film will be released this March.
Luna explains it was challenging to get U.S. financing — the first funders were Mexican — but as buzz has built Participant and others have come on board and the film now has distribution deals in both the U.S. and Mexico.
“There’s a reality that the market is changing and the stories of the Latino community need to be out because there’s a huge audience in need of films that would represent them,” he says.
The film focuses on just ten years in Chavez’s life and Luna says he chose to focus on the boycott and Chavez’s personal relationships to give a better sense of who he was as a person.
“To me, even though it’s the story of a hero who changed the life of many, in the end he was a simple man. I remember being on one of the interviews I had with the family and union members, and someone said Cesar could be in the same room you were in for three hours listening to everyone speaking and then at the end he will talk and you would realize you were in front of Cesar Chavez for three hours without even noticing him,” Luna recalls. “And I think that’s what makes the film very powerful, because when you see it you don’t see a man with a cape and a mask … you see a man doing something completely achievable by us – by you, by me, by anyone.”
Cesar Chavez stars Michael Pena as Chavez, alongside Rosario Dawson, Jacob Vargas, America Ferrera, and John Malkovich. It will be released on March 28, 2014.
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