Equally lionizing but richer in detail than the recent Michael Peña-led biopic César Chávez, this occasionally stirring doc portrait of the late Latino labor organizer and civil rights icon frames his legacy around a single act of protest.
In 1988, the 61-year-old Chávez undertook a water-only fast that lasted 36 days, serving as both a personal boycott of California grape growers and penance for not doing more to protect farm workers from pesticides. Ostensibly directed by Richard Ray Perez, the film has a credited co-director in former Chávez press secretary Lorena Parlee—who died in 2006, but clearly was the caretaker of such exclusive footage as loved ones uneasily standing vigil at the weakened Chávez’s bedside.
Over 6,000 supporters (including talking-head tributary Martin Sheen) waited for the prearranged end of the strike, and the film milks the passion of their testimonials and camaraderie to interweave a recap of this devoted hero’s milestones. From early life as a field laborer to the launch of the UFW and subsequent clashes with teamsters, Chávez took many lessons from Gandhi.
In fact, aside from a surprising sidebar about his controversial involvement with the therapy cult Synanon, Chávez might have appreciated that the film — unlike his storied life — features very little conflict.