March 17, 2006

“Walkout” recalls key event in Latino history

By Ray Richmond

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Whenever there has been
an important film dealing with the Latino experience in America
in the past 20 years, the one constant seems to be Edward James
Olmos, from his Oscar-nominated role as educator Jaime
Escalante in 1988's "Stand and Deliver" to 1992's "American Me"
to 1995's "Mi Familia" (My Family) to, more recently, the PBS
series "American Family."

So you know without even looking at the credits that Olmos
is a driving force behind "Walkout," a powerful HBO Films entry
that finds the versatile actor-producer-director-activist
serving as co-executive producer, director and co-star. The
passion that East LA native Olmos brings to the table is
evident in every frame of a flick that recounts in impressive
detail the true story of a 1968 Chicano student uprising in the
Latino barrio high schools.

Penned by Marcus DeLeon, Ernie Contreras and Timothy J.
Sexton from a story by Victor Villasenor, "Walkout" essentially
tells its story through the experience of the renowned
filmmaker Moctesuma Esparza, whose projects have included "The
Milagro Beanfield War" and "Selena," among many others.
Esparza, an executive producer of "Walkout," played an active
role in the '68 walkouts and has pushed to bring this project
to fruition for some 20 years. He's depicted in the film by
Bodie Olmos, son of Edward James, while Esparza's daughter
Tonantzin also has a co-starring role as a college student
named Vickie Castro.

Nepotism aside, "Walkout" is partially fictional in that
many of the characters are based on composites. But that
doesn't reduce the credibility or impact of a movie that
accomplishes something all too rare in cinema by shining a
light on a little-remembered but earth-shifting event in
America's social history. The walkouts were staged to protest a
variety of issues negatively impacting the Latino educational
community, chiefly the virtual exclusion of Mexican-American
discussion in history books, dreadful conditions in the East
L.A. schools and cultural prejudice that made speaking Spanish
in the classroom a punishable offense.

The film follows Paula Crisostomo (Alexa Vega), a
college-bound Lincoln High senior who hooks up with a handful
of older fellow Latino students who are likewise inspired by
the civil rights movement -- calling themselves the Brown
Berets. They work to reclaim their heritage with a unified
dedication to Chicano power and craft specific demands of the
school administration, including bilingual education and
revised textbooks. When it's ignored, a simultaneous student
walkout strike at Roosevelt, Garfield, Belmont, Wilson and
Lincoln high schools is organized, also joined by Lincoln
teacher Sal Castro (Michael Pena). It was planned as peaceful
dissent but erupted into violence thanks to an overzealous,
unnecessarily aggressive police response. An outraged community
had been awakened, a fight for justice born.

That the East LA walkouts remain so little-remembered
outside the Latino community speaks to the value of a film like
this that so compellingly recounts its lingering impact. While
"Walkout" occasionally devolves into simplistic platitudes and
speechifying, it is in the main an important piece of work told
with clarity and purpose.


Paula Crisostomo: Alexa Vega

Sal Castro: Michael Pena

Bobby Verdugo: Efren Ramirez

Yoli: Veronica Diaz

Moctesuma Esparza: Bodie Olmos

Panfilo: Yancey Arias

Francis: Laura Harring

David Sanchez: Douglas Spain

Vickie Castro: Tonantzin Esparza

Julian Nava: Edward James Olmos

Executive producers: Moctesuma Esparza, Robert Katz;
Co-executive producers: Robert M. Young, Edward James Olmos;
Producer: Lisa Bruce; Director: Edward James Olmos; Screenplay:
Marcus DeLeon, Ernie Contreras, Timothy J. Sexton; Story:
Victor Villasenor; Director of photography: Donald M. Morgan;
Production designer: Carlos Barbosa; Costume designer: Dorothy
Amos; Editor: Michael McCusker; Music: Rosino Serrano; Sound
mixer: Stephen Halbert; Casting: Rick Montgomery.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter