Cesar Chavez: This Film Has an Important Message for White People
Finally, a film that tells white liberals exactly how they can help poor and exploited minorities who are struggling against some form of white-controlled state/corporate power! Cesar Chavez is set in the 1960s, in the period of assassinations and political unrest, and focuses on the unionization of farm laborers in California. The always-handsome Michael Peña stars as the world-famous union organizer.
There is one scene in particular that all white liberals must watch and learn from: A white American woman from (of course) Portland, Oregon, approaches Chavez, who is leading a 300-mile march from the hinterlands to the capital of California, and asks how can she help end the injustice. Chavez tells her straight: Stop how you are consuming and also encourage your white friends to do the same. The grapes and other fruits and vegetables grown in the region are being consumed not by the poor, but by people like you. Do not give the movement a little of your money. Do not even march with us. Just change your behavior. She nods in understanding and then leaves the movie for good. That's it.
What makes Cesar Chavez stand out from other biopics of 20th-century humanists and activists is that it's not made for a middle-class white audience. This is why its message to them is so minimal, so brief. The film, which has its moments of beauty and tenderness (the sun setting on the valley, Chavez's car packed with his wife and eight kids), is devoted to communicating basic labor union principles to those who are out on the fields, or frying things in the back of fast-food restaurants, or minding children in day-care centers. This film is for them. The history of labor unionism was removed from America's collective memory in the '80s during the Reagan revolution, and we currently live in a world where we are told again and again that there is no alternative to low wages and rising housing costs. This film says no, there is a solution, and it's found in the past, in the '60s, in the years Ronald Reagan (who is rightly demonized in this film) and his kind attacked poor Mexican and Filipino farmworkers. What was the response of labor? They unionized and fought power with power. This is the only way you will win. More power to the people.