by Alisa Valdes

The question on every Latino’s mind this week?
Why is the César Chávez biopic, directed by the amazing Diego Luna and starring powerhouse actors Michael Peña and Rosario Dawson, failing so badly at the U.S. box office?

The film had a huge promotional budget and push. Everyone knew it was coming. Yet the film barely made $3 million on opening weekend, according to Deadline. Movie critics from coast to coast have been unanimous is saying the film is dull, boring, quiet.
I’ve seen the film, and it’s very good. So why the paltry reaction?

I have a theory: César Chávez doesn’t fit the stereotype for a “minority” civil rights leader in the U.S. media, so critics missed the point.

In US pop culture the paradigm for “American Civil Rights Leader” always presents such people as being like Martin Luther King Jr. – gifted and passionate orators, cut from the Black Southern Preacher cloth, men (and very occasionally women) who comfortably command a room and are at ease in the spotlight.

César Chávez was a different – but equally effective – type of leader.
Most importantly, Chávez was a leader from an indigenous American cultural heritage, a Mexican American from the Southwest – meaning he hailed from an ancient and noble culture of resistance rooted in quiet Native American concepts of power and leadership.
The United States media and its critics don’t understand this culture; all they see is a “boring” man. This is not because the film failed. It is because the critics are ignorant about Latinos in general, and American Indians in particular.

An article by Linda Van Hamm in the Journal of American Indian Education describes the same issue as it pertains to the misunderstanding by whites of Native American pupils.
In contrast, in silence communicates mutual respect and a sense of unity. Reticence and nonverbal forms of communication are greatly valued (Boseker & Gordon, 1983; Hoeveler, 1988; Mitchum, 1989; Sanders, 1987). In the American school system, unfortunately, this communicative reticence often results in American Indian children being viewed as either very shy and withdrawn or as passive, unmotivated, and uninvolved in the learning process (Reyhner, 1992; Yates, 1987).

César Chávez understood this. So did Diego Luna and Michael Peña.

Chávez organized indigenous and Mexican American workers through his quiet power and humility; that’s why it worked. How tragic and unfortunate that American critics have blasted this lovely film for its reserved and taciturn hero.

They’ve missed the point.