Born on December 29, 1979 in Mexico City, Diego Luna Alexander lost
his mother in a car accident when he was only two. Therefore, Luna
became immersed in his father's passion for entertainment. His
father was Mexico’s most acclaimed living theatre, cinema and opera
set designer. From an early age Luna began acting in television,
movies and theater. Once he achieved international recognition, he
has expanded his résumé to include writing, producing and directing
This producer-actor-director’s full bio includes such highlights as
big budget sci-fi thriller Elysium (2013), the
Oscar-nominated Milk (2008), the Tom Hanks starrer The
Terminal (2004), and the provocative Y Tu Mamá También
(2001). However, his recent directorial effort Cesar Chavez
not only outlines a slice of the famed civil rights leader and labor
organizer’s life (powerfully played by Michael Peña) but also
chronicles the birth of a modern American labor movement. The film
tells the story of a man torn between family duties as a husband and
father and his commitment to the fight for a living wage for farm
Passionate but soft-spoken, Chavez embraced non-violence as he
battled the greed and prejudice of the local white community in this
struggle to bring dignity to his constituency and disenfranchised
people in general. Chavez inspired millions of Americans who hadn’t
worked on a farm, or been to California, to fight for social
justice. His journey is a amazing testament to the power of one
remarkable person’s ability to change the world.
Buttressed by two incredibly strong women — wife Helen (America
Ferrara) and Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson) — Chavez presciently
foresaw the impact the Latino American community would have on this
country as he drew attention to this long-disenfranchised sector.
you got this idea, how long did it take you to do this film?
At the beginning I didn’t know I had to do it. I would have quit had
I been told this was going take four years and a half of my life.
When I started I thought, “Wow, it’s amazing that there’s no film
about Cesar Chavez. But this is so powerful and comes in time for
many reasons, and since this community’s growing, everyone’s going
to want to do this film.”
I went out and started shopping, as is done with films. You go to
studios and sit down with executives. Everyone gave us a chance to
sit down, which sounded like, “Okay it’s happening!” Then they said,
“Wow, this is great. We love that you’re doing this. We’re not going
to join, but once you have a film come and show it to us and
probably we’ll be part of it.” And we’re like, “No! We need the
money to do it!”
It’s not like I’m just going out and doing it. I heard things like,
“Can you make it more sexy?” I was like, “How can I make it more
sexy? If it was sexier, farm workers would probably be living a
different reality today.”
They said, “What about A-List actors? Can you have Antonio Banderas
and Javier Bardem in it?” I’m thinking, the man existed. There are
pictures. There are murals! You cannot just say, “Well, now it’s
just going to look like something else…” This is about a
Mexican-American, a guy who was born in Arizona. Anyway, we found no
support in this country. But by that point, I promised the family
that I was going to deliver a film.
I promised that it was happening and invested a year of my life into
it at that point. We were working on the script with Keir Pearson,
so I said to my partner Pablo Cruz, “Let’s go to Mexico and finance
it the way we do in film.”
We went to Mexico and in a week and a half we found the money. At
least 70% that allows the comeback for the other 30%. Then we came
back and found the perfect partners, Participant Media and Pantelion
Films, two different kind of film [studios]. They’re both doing
films that would be perfect for this market — one that we’re trying
to prove exists. That’s how everything started in terms of putting
wanted to come to the States and open a company and office here, so
we said that we have to do a film that mattered on both sides of the
border. It would allow us to work here, but still do stories that
connect us with where we come from. The community we belong to, to
the point that my son who was born here, in the States, so he’s
knows he’s a Mexican-American. In fact, he had an American passport
before the Mexican one.
In a way, this was an attempt to tell a story that he would be able
to use to find out where he comes from. What needed to happen for
him to be where he is at the moment. That’s how everything started.
Do you hope this film will change society’s perception of Latinos
and the issues that concerns this community?
There’s something that’s happened here before which is that all us
Latinos, we have to learn from these guys. If we organize, if we’re
united, we have the strength to change the world. That’s definitely
a reality, because I don’t think we’ve been so well organized since
then. Yes, there’s a lot of complaints that we have to this country,
as a community, but I would start looking at ourselves in the mirror
and [ask] why we haven’t done [anything]?
We have a chance to send that message on the opening week, March
28th, which is, “We want these films to be out. We want our stories
to be represented. We want our heroes to celebrated in film.”
There are two things that matter here, as Cesar said and showed us.
One is that our strength is in our numbers, and they’re growing. I
don’t know why we, as a community, haven’t experienced that feeling
of power [that] we actually have in hand. The other is that the film
confronts you, not just us Latinos, but everyone in this country,
with a reality that’s very uncomfortable. That today in the fields,
the conditions still aren’t great.
The struggle continues. Consumers have also not been aware of what
they’re part of when they buy a product since then. The amazing
thing they did as a community, is that they connected with
consumers, the rest of America, a community they didn’t think they
had a connection with. They found a way to say, “Our story matters
When you buy a grape, you’re supporting child labor. Moms listened
to that. When a mother was in a store in Chicago, she found a farm
worker saying, “When you’re buying that product, you have to
remember that behind that product is the work of my six year-old.”
Mothers stopped buying grapes. So it’s about connecting, finding out
what connects us, not what separates us. I think that’s a beautiful
message about the film, and that applies not just for America, but
for the world. It’s a nonviolent movement that said it’s about the
responsibility of knowing we’re not here alone. The work of many has
to happen so we can experience the life we have. It’s just being
aware of that — that’s what matters.
it tough for actor Michael Peña to have this on his shoulders?
I was walking, coming with Rosario from having lunch, and she told
me, ”It’s unbelievable how much Michael changed for this role. He’s
just nothing close to what he portrayed here.”
I always told him, “Michael, we have to be aware. We cannot do the
Hollywood way, you know? We cannot say suddenly that Cesar was a
great speaker, and the Martin Luther King kind of leader.”
He wasn’t. He was very humble and timid. As a result of the amount
of urge he had for change to happen, he had to become the leader. If
he would’ve had a chance to stand back and stay behind, he would
have done it. He was a great listener.
That’s why he could organize these people, because he came and took
the time to listen to everyone’s story. This is a community that has
been ignored for so long, then suddenly someone arrived that cared
about their story and said, “Your story matters.”
In fact, Mark Grossman, who traveled a lot through rallies and was
Cesar’s PR person — he wrote the speeches for him — was very close
to him and we worked a lot with him. He told me [that] the rallies
were painful because he would stay until nine, 10 pm. People left,
and he was still talking to a woman in the back. He had time, he
nothing else to do but this. Everyone realized he was giving his
life. We have to remember, this is a man that got out of living in
the city. He changed his life. He was wearing a suit. He had a job.
But he said, “No, we have to go back to the fields, we have to
change things from the inside. It’s not going to come from the
He went back and sacrificed not just his reality but the reality of
his family. I love when Fernando asks, “Who plays in Delano? You’re
not taking me to a place that doesn’t have a major league baseball
team, right?” And [Cesar] goes, “Yeah, we’re all going to sacrifice
here, and we’re all going to go back to where we come from.”
showed how he sacrificed his relationship with his older son. You
spent more than four years working on this movie. How much did it
affect your relationship with your own children?
It does, it does. I’ve never had to go so far as he did. I was in
Chicago on Friday, took the red eye, spent Saturday and Sunday with
my kids, and I’m here on Monday. I would never give away the
weekend, and stay for another interview. I think that’s what makes
him heroic. I don’t know if I would be able to go that far.
How old are your kids now?
Five and three. I don’t know if I would be able to go that far.
These guys left for months. Besides everything we’ve talked about,
the film is about a father and a son. To me, the reflection I’m
making here is [that] there’s a sacrifice we fathers do. I did not
understand until I had a baby. It changed the way I looked to my
father. When I had a baby, I went back and said, “Damn, dad. You’ve
done all of this?”
My mother died when I was two, so my father had to play both roles
and work. It’s that very unfair part of life where you know you have
to do it. I do film because of my kids. I think about them every
moment of my life. Every decision I make, they’re involved.
Probably, they won’t know this until they have their own.
That’s the gap that sometimes... Hopefully in life you have the time
to bring it back together, but not many times it happens. For these
characters, it took a long time. They had eight kids. Dolores Huerta
had 11 kids. Imagine that. And they managed to do all this as well.
Was it a conscious choice that you avoided his childhood?
The first script I got [went] from the day he was born until the day
he died. You can do that in a fictional film, it doesn’t matter. But
with the life of someone I think that’s very unfair. It’s impossible
in an hour and 45 minutes to tell of someone’s 64-year journey. I
thought, “I’m going to concentrate in one achievement.”
That’s what the boycott was to me. I said, “If I can explain how the
boycott happened, and why the boycott happened, and what [it
brought] to the community, I’ll be sending the right message.”
I didn’t want to do a film just about this community. I wanted to do
a film about how this community managed to connect with the rest of
the country. Because to me, the powerful message here is that if
change ever comes, it’s because we get involved and we people
connect with others.
find those who are out there and what connects us with them. To me,
that was the thing I wanted to focus on: the personal struggle of a
father. It’s the first film done about Cesar and the movement, so
it’s unfair to ask one film to fill the gap of so many years where
there was no film talking about it. Because if I was here, and there
were another three films, I could focus in on a specific thing that
none of the other films [did]. But you cannot ask a film to tell
everything that hasn’t been told. Hopefully this will [stimulate]
curiosity and awareness so that people will go and investigate a
little more about who they are and what’s behind them.
Why was the movie shot in Mexico instead of where the events
happened? Did that have to do with where you found the money? Being
a movie about a syndicated movement, with the actors’ unions very
strong here, don’t know how it is in Mexico, but how much of the
actors and the crew were unionized?
We shot in Mexico because of two reasons. One, the film was financed
in Mexico, so a lot of the financing came as support. We first went
to California. Even if we would have shot in the States, we would
not have shot in California, because the actual places have changed
dramatically since the ’60s. So you cannot shoot there, you’d have
to recreate the [conditions].
We found in Sonora that the fields there have that immensity. Sonora
is the state that produces 80% of the table grape of Mexico. Mexico
is a huge country, so the feeling when you’re there, it’s the same
feeling you have in the valley in California. You really are a dot
in the middle of nowhere. There’s this immensity, the feeling that
those fields are feeding a world.
In terms of the union, there’s no way to do a film this big
non-union in Mexico. Every actor was paid through SAG; we also have
a union in Mexico of actors and technicians. It would be very stupid
to do a film about a union without the support of unions [laughs].
But you know what happened…? There was a whole debate on the
The extras are farm workers. That doesn’t mean they didn’t get paid.
The point is, I wanted to work with real farm workers. You know
those faces? There’s no way to put makeup on a face and make it look
like they’ve been under the sun for so many years, under that
condition of dust and wind. Those faces tell you the story. Just by
looking at the face, you get many things that can’t be said in
these farm workers from the area where you shot?
Many farm workers joined. By the third day they realized that film
isn’t glamorous and that the experience was as miserable as working
in the fields [laughs]. Because we were in the fields, we put
every penny we had in front of the camera, so the conditions we were
shooting under were rough compared to the cliché of how Hollywood
Did the workers themselves teach you anything, something that you
The only thing is that they reminded me every day of why the film
needed to be done. It just still makes no sense to me that those who
are feeding this country can barely feed their families. By
listening to their stories, I got the necessary energy to keep
going. No matter what our issues were, they don’t matter. I am lucky
to be able to choose where I work, who I’m around, what I do, what
stories I tell. I can’t complain. It was a great reminder on why
this needs to be out.
The film deals with social issues. Is that also part of the
Definitely, and we’re focusing a lot on kids. Before the proper
promotion started, we did two weeks of going to high schools and
universities. We went to Harvard, Berkeley, Irvine, UCLA. Then we
did a screening in the RFK High School. It was like a system. We did
a screening where they taped it and then that’s going to be shown to
kids around California.
We’re pushing to do tons of little videos in social media and
everything to raise awareness about Cesar Chavez and what the
movement [stood] for. That’s where Participant comes in. They have
an amazing reach in terms of a call-to-action.
As part of our film, we are also making a petition to President
Obama about making a Cesar Chavez National Day of Service. As the
campaign goes, if you guys participate, it’d be great. There’s a
page called takepart.com/cesarchavez and
you can sign. If you sign the petition, we need a hundred thousand
signatures to go to Obama.
Film should be the beginning of something bigger. This film should
trigger, hopefully, the curiosity of people to find out exactly what
this movement was about. It’s difficult to inform in an hour and 45
minutes about everything they did and still entertain, but it is
pertinent to talk about this because the issues today in the field
are even more complicated [than ever].
thought also about a day of celebration. A few states today
celebrate Cesar Chavez day, but we thought that a national day of
service would be the way he would like to be remembered. A day where
you work and give something back to your community, which is what
they did from beginning to end.
There [are] so many things happening at the same time, and there are
so many things happening in Latin America. Because if few people
here know the story of Cesar Chavez, you’ll go to Latin America and
everyone thinks he’s a boxer. No one knows. It’s something that
hopefully the film, and everything happening around the film, might
be able to change. Also, the foundation is working really close.
Dolores Huerta has been promoting the film with us. Every time she
grabs the microphone, she talks about it and the 10 other things
that matter to her. If film can work for that to happen, if film can
bring attention to the work of those that are still in the struggle,
still out there, I’ll be very proud. But it’s definitely about kids.
You know an amazing thing that has been happening is that today
there are many Latinos in key positions. Many have the chance to
actually choose what they want to do in life. They have businesses
and so many of these people are buying out theaters and giving them
away to schools.
For the first weekend, someone said, “I would like to share this
film with every high school kid of the community I come from” which
is an amazing thing. The distribution company Pantelion is getting
these calls and managing to actually make it happen, where you
basically buy out a theater and fill it with kids that normally
wouldn’t go watch it. Or will probably watch it two years later on
their phone while doing another 20 things, which is how kids now
watch films... So that’s also happening. People like Henry Moreno —
he was the first one.
Is he one of the producers?
No, no, no! He’s just a guy that cares about this. I was at an event
in Washington and Moreno talked about this. He was doing a show and
he told me, “I’m buying out theaters to share with the kids, and
this is happening, people are starting to react.”
That’s fantastic. I did this film because I think I have some
distance to the story. Generationally, I wasn’t around when this
happened, so also that gives me some objectivity, I guess. The angle
which I’m telling this, it’s the perfect angle for people who don’t
know the story, to listen [to] it for the first time.
What did it teach you about yourself as a father, as a director, as
You know, I found a connection. It was through telling personal
stories that they managed to bring the attention to something
bigger. It was about, as I said, a mother going out of a grocery
store and telling another mother, “Behind that grape, there’s the
work of my kid. Are you sure you want to be part of that?”
Then that mother got hit so badly and so profoundly, that she’s
going to turn into an advocate for the movement. It’s by telling
personal stories that you can trigger that, and I think film has
that power. Today, if I was sitting in a board meeting of this
movement, I would say, “Let’s do short documentaries about each
other’s experiences and get them out, because that’s the way to get
We do the same thing, in a way. At least film is capable of doing
what these guys did. That was a connection that I found on the way.
When I was out and everyone was like, “Oh, you’re doing the film
about Cesar Chavez! I got to tell you something. My grandfather, one
day, he grew up and blah blah blah…”
If I do a documentary where I tell you, “More than a 100,000 have
been killed in the last eight years in my country because of the war
on drugs that our president started, our former president started…”
You’re going to go, “Oh, that’s a big number.”
But if I tell you the story of a kid who lost his father and now has to
work and had to get out of school to support his mother. How the
life these four people changed dramatically, not just his but his
brother and his sister... The next day you’re going to care about
the war we’re living there. By telling personal stories you can
trigger that attention. That’s something they were doing that was
way ahead of us.
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