I was naturally weary of “Walkout” mainly because films about students standing up for their rights really does nothing but end up as a preachy cliché ridden piece of melodrama that gives us nothing new. Plus, it’s starring “Spy Kids” very own Alexa Vega as a student. So, when I was done with “Walkout”, I was surprised. Not only at how it
approached the story from a new perspective that was fresh and fascinating, but also had strong performance from everyone. After seeing Vega perform like a limp dog in the utterly wretched “Sleepover”, I was pleasantly surprised that she gave a very good performance here. “Walkout” takes place in 1968 and involves the equal rights movement of Chicano students in California whom protested and formed groups to stage protests and walkouts from school. They gathered together to gain equal rights and inevitably pulled it off. Often times these films prefer to view these Hispanic students as kids with no future, but the kids here are intelligent, well rounded, and extremely organized.
There’s a sort of poetic irony to “Walkout” that was quite interesting. Michael Peńa’s teacher Mr. Castro explains to his students that they’re not aware of their Mexican heritage because history has erased their legacy, and here I am, a person well versed in activism, who had no idea this event ever even happened. But then this was the sixties. It was the age of turmoil with the Vietnam War, civil rights movement, protests, and the like. Makes me wish there would be some more awakenings like this. Director Edward James Olmos pulls off one hell of a stellar job directing this activist tale with flair and simplicity mingled within the story. It’s never cliché, and it’s actually quite engrossing, especially when he interviews the real people in the closing credits. That was perhaps the best sequence of the film. All around though, there are rather good performances. Michael Peńa particularly–who you may remember from “Crash” as the Mexican locksmith–gives a great performance as Sal Castro, a teacher who doesn’t give his students inspirational speeches.
Instead he teaches them that they’re not learning their own history, which is why they don’t have a full grasp on their own identities, and then he takes them to a camp to show them their own culture. He inspires them to rebel, and then sits in the background and watches in pride. Pena’s performance is very riveting as a man struggling to keep his own job, but also struggling to help his students in their cause for equal rights. There’s corporal punishment, janitorial duties, and the bathrooms locked off to them during lunch, only seedlings of what ultimately inspires them to stand up and fight. This is a culture that were closed off from each other, and suddenly realized they weren’t the minority they were told they were, and then made their voices heard.
Alexa Vega gives a surprisingly strong performance showing she may not be the teenage wasteland I originally predicted after watching “Sleepover”. She has range, and the right ability to perform such a complex character, and she pulls it off. Paired with tight writing, and Olmos’ great direction, and “Walkout” is a very good look at the power of protest. Though one could make the case that protest was all in vain since the education system in California is still in shambles, but “Walkout” really focuses on the change they made and potential for change to still be made in this society.