It was recently reported that Mexican-American actor Michael Peña (“Crash,” “World Trade Center’) has been cast to play Civil Rights Leader, Cesar Chavez on the big screen alongside Rosario Dawson and America Ferrera.
And, since today is Cesar Chavez's birthday and an official state holiday in California, Colorado and Texas, (schools, courts and government offices are closed in some states in observance of the holiday), we thought it would be fun to take a look back at other Latino stars who –like Peña – have played real people in movies.
Happy Birthday, Cesar Chavez!
Click through our slideshow and tell us which of these biopics starring Latinos is your favorite!
One of the most beautiful women in the world toned down her good looks and traded red carpet dresses for modest attire to realistically portray surrealistic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in the 2002 Julie Taymor biopic, "Frida." Hayek's sultry and fiery performance as a ball-busting, beer-guzzling eccentric who could easily outdrink men twice her size, turned Salma -- who had previously starred in rom-coms like "Fools Rush In" and popcorn flicks like "Wild Wild West" -- into a respected character actress. The role also earned her an Oscar nomination or Best Actress in a Leading Role.
The Venezuelan actor showed tons of skin in the 5 and a half-hour-long biopic about Venezuelan terrorist and assassin Carlos the Jackal, but it was the way Edgar bared his soul in the movie that really connected with audiences. With a nuanced performance that captured the many contradictions of a man who was a lover, a fighter and a murderer, Ramirez earned rave reviews, as well as Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.
In Brazilian director Walter Salles' 2004 biopic, "The Motorcycle Diaries," Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal played Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. The "Y Tu Mama Tambien" actor brought intelligence and heart to the role of an idealistic young man whose worldview was forever changed by the human suffering he witnsseed as he traveled across South America by motorcycle.
The Mexican actor earned an Oscar nomination for his nuanced performance as real-life high school math teacher Jaime Escalante, an educator who prepared his students for AP exams, taught them the value of hard work, and most importantly, taught them to never give up on themselves or their dreams. In the end, Escalante's students learned that his words were true: "All we need <em>es ganas</em>."
How good was Mexican actor Anthony Quinn at portraying real people on the big screen? Well, let's just say Quinn won two Oscars (back to back!) for his roles as revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata's brother Eufemio in Elia Kazan's "Viva Zapata!" (1952), and painer Paul Gauguin in Vincent Minnelli's van Gogh biopic, "Lust for Life (1956).
Jennifer Lopez's acting career blossomed - <em>como la flor</em> - thanks to her star turn as the late Mexican singer Selena in the 1997 biopic, "Selena." Lopez infused the performance with charm, grace and warmth, and with her tremendous stage preference, the Puerto Rican superstar captured the spirit of the adored Tejano singer.
For his role in the biopic "Pinero," half-Peruvian actor Benjamin Bratt transformed himself into a rugged, incarcerated, drug-using tortured artist. While the performance was extremely dark (<a href="" target="_hplink">and painful to watch</a>), the charming actor managed to also make it quite entertaining.
In Julian Schnabel's critically acclaimed biopic "Before Night Falls," Spanish actor Javier Bardem played Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas from his youthful innocence as an idealistic young man who loved his typewriter and the ocean, to his persecution and imprisonment for being "anti-revolutionary," and finally his battle with AIDS. The decade-spanning performance leaves you breathless like a punch to the stomach. It's one of the most human performances in the history of cinema.
As country music legend Johnny Cash in the 2002 biopic "Walk The Line," actor Joaquin Phoenix (who was born in Puerto Rico, and is therefore an "Honorary Latino!"), wrestled with demons and addictions, struggled to find a balance between family and his art, and loved unconditionally. Phoenix's brilliant turn as the off-balance Cash was full of heartache, sadness and melancholy, but it was never devoid of life. <em><strong>CORRECTION</strong>: An earlier version of this article referred to Joaquin Phoenix as "part-Puerto Rican." While Phoenix was born in Puerto Rico to Children of God missionaries, he does not identify as Puerto Rican. </em>
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