America Ferrera on Chavez flick: ‘More movies like this need to be made’ (Video!)

America Ferrera dishes to the Reliable Source about who in Hollywood should run for office and whether the red carpet or facing Congress stirs up more nerves. (JulieAnn McKellogg/The Washington Post)

The Celeb: Actress America Ferrera, best known for her titular role in the ABC comedy “Ugly Betty,” and a frequent visitor to Washington for work on behalf of causes like Voto Latino, President Obama’s campaigns, and immigration reform.

The Cause: This time, Ferrera was lauding the life and work of Cesar Chavez, who just happens to be the subject of the film “Cesar Chavez,” in which she plays the labor organizer’s wife, Helen.

The Scene: A screening of the pic at the movie theater inside the Capitol Visitors Center. And because it’s Washington, the warm-up act to the show wasn’t movie previews or reminders to silence cellphones, but rather, remarks from political heavyweights like House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), Arturo Rodriguez, president of the Chavez-founded United Farm Workers of America, and Paul Chavez, Cesar’s son and president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, as well as Ferrera and Diego Luna, the movie’s director.

Without having seen the movie yet, many of the speakers urged the audience to spread the word to fill theaters when the flick opens next month. Chavez’s story isn’t as well-known as other important figures in American history, Perez noted. “Most people can say, ‘Oh, he helped grape farmers,’ but they can’t really get to the next sentence,” he said.

Movies as education? Pass the popcorn.

Young Kennedy, whose grandfather, the late Bobby Kennedy, visited Chavez in 1968 to break the labor leader’s historic fast, was endearingly humble (the words “thank” and “you” seemed to comprise about half of his brief remarks), while Chavez explained that his father and the family had turned down many previous requests to do a biopic.

The Soundbite: Ferrera (eloquent, petite, and wearing a conservative-but-not-too gray dress) spoke about the dearth of movies and television that reflect the experiences of minorities. “This movie needs to be a success because more movies like this need to be made,” she told the political crowd. “You have the platform to make this part of the conversation.”

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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Emily Heil · February 5