x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE’s Image Nation helped save film about Mexican farm worker and activist Cesar Chavez

Actor-director Diego Luna says his biopic Cesar Chavez only went into production because Image Nation Abu Dhabi and Participant Media were willing to take risks Hollywood baulked at.

Michael Pena as the farm worker and activist Cesar Chavez in Diego Luna's film Cesar Chavez. Courtesy Canana Films
Michael Pena as the farm worker and activist Cesar Chavez in Diego Luna's film Cesar Chavez. Courtesy Canana Films

At the recent Berlin International Film Festival, the director Diego Luna revealed that his new biopic Cesar Chavez only went into production because Participant Media and Image Nation Abu Dhabi [a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Media, which owns The National] were willing to take risks Hollywood baulked at.

A farmworker, civil rights activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America, Cesar Chavez was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his non-violent protest methods. Born in Yuma, Arizona, in 1927, the Mexican-American is played in the film by the actor Michael Peña. America Ferrera plays his wife Helen and John Malkovich is one of the exploitative farm owners.

“We tried to finance the film in the United States, but it was impossible,” says Luna, better known as an actor in Y Tu Mamá También, The Terminal and Milk. “We went through the normal kind of path that you go through with a studio and they said no – as simple as that. They said this is not sexy enough. In one studio they asked me if Antonio Banderas could play the role.”

Luna believes that one reason Hollywood studios were scared of making a film about Chavez was because the exploitation of workers from certain backgrounds was a modern form of slavery – an “inconvenient truth”, he says. He contrasts the reaction in Hollywood with that in Mexico, where everyone wanted to make the film but no one had the money to finance it. Since Chavez died in 1993, he has become a major historical icon for the Latin community.

“Then we found our right partners,” says Luna, smiling. “Even though I always complain about how difficult it was to finance this movie, when Participant and Image Nation came on board we were with the right people – those who care about the people that we care about and want to get these stories out, because they do have an agenda and believe that immigration reform needs to happen and believe that there is a need for that community to be accepted and celebrated in the country.”

artslife@thenational.ae