When Oscar de la Hoya approached Eva Longoria Bastón about directing a documentary based on his rivalry with Julio César Chávez, she wasn’t sure she was the right person for the job.
“I’m not a boxing expert,” she recalls telling the boxing legend. “Maybe a boxing expert should do this.” But as she dug deeper, the actress and director realized that there was so much more to the story than boxing. The opportunity to explore ongoing cultural divides in the Mexican-American community through the lens of sports turned out to be too good to pass up.
Eva Longoria Bastón, Oscar de la Hoya, and producer Grant Best recently visited IndieWire’s Sundance Studio, presented by Adobe, for a panel discussing their new documentary “La Guerra Civil,” which has its world premiere this week as part of the virtual Sundance Film Festival.
“It’s not about jabs and punches and stats,” the director said. “This is about this cultural divide, and about exploring what it means to be Mexican enough. And I feel like we’re still kind of encountering that today, it hasn’t gone away.”
Oscar de la Hoya faced off against Julio César Chávez in two high-profile boxing matches in the 1990s, and their boxing rivalry divided Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans. Oscar de la Hoya is Mexican American, and quickly found that many people in his community, including his own family, felt compelled to support Chávez out of loyalty to their Mexican roots.
“I now get it,” the boxer said. “This fight here with Chavez, who’s like this living Mexican legend, who’s like a god to us… And you have this kid who grew up in LA, who represented the U.S. in the Olympic Games in Barcelona… It was the first time where I experienced a little bit of friction, when I fought Julio César Chávez. And I did not understand it. A handful of my uncles were supporting Julio César Chávez when I fought him. And that’s when I realized, this isn’t just a fight. This is a fight amongst our cultures.”
The issue of what it means to be “Mexican enough,” and whether a young man who grew up in America could carry a torch for the Mexican community, is an extremely complicated one. But Longoria Bastón notes that boxing has long been used as a way to explore difficult topics.
“The more interesting boxing docs, like Antoine Fuqua’s ‘What’s My Name,’ about Muhammad Ali… that wasn’t about boxing. It was about his civil rights trajectory, which was so fascinating to me. Or if you watched ‘Champs’ on HBO about Bernard Hopkins and Mike Tyson and how these guys came out of the prison system. I always find that boxing has so many societal aspects to it, and we haven’t seen our version of that in the Mexican community.”
While Oscar de la Hoya and Julio César Chávez both hung up their boxing gloves years ago, the cultural divisions that animated their rivalry are still alive and well. The film’s crew hopes that ‘La Guerra Civil’ will help the community make progress towards resolving those issues.
“The documentary starts with how different Oscar and Julio are,” Longoria Bastón said. “Young and old, champion and up-and-comer, and American against the Mexican… then by the end of the documentary you go, ‘oh my god, we are so much more similar.’ And I would love for our community to reach that conclusion in our fight, because we have much bigger fights.”
Watch the full interview above.
Presenting sponsor Adobe — with a mission to enable creativity for all — is committed to supporting, elevating and amplifying underrepresented creators, so the world can see, learn and benefit from diverse perspectives. Learn more at Adobe.com Diverse Voices. The upcoming 2022 festival marks the fifth consecutive year IndieWire and Adobe have joined forces for the IndieWire Studio at Sundance.