I don’t mean for this to be a joke, but when Paul Mooney recently said that he was glad that Hispanics got their (and I’m paraphrasing here) “African-American wake up call” in the midst of the illegal immigration debate of 2006, the problem wasn’t whether or not the Hispanics were being treated fairly or not. The problem was that this discussion has been going on in some manner or fashion for almost four decades now without a large-scale epiphany that required action. However back in 1968, there was some action (which led to the coordinated efforts of students to walk out of their classes in Los Angeles High schools as a protest of the conditions there), and Walkout helps to tell the tale.
In this film that was directed by Edward James Olmos (Miami Vice) and produced by Moctesuma Esparza (who was one of the organizers of the protest), the film details the activities of Paula Crisostomo (Alexa Vega, Spy Kids) who is a pretty good achiever in school who hangs out with friends like Bobby (Efren Ramirez, Napoleon Dynamite). She has an influential teacher in Sal Castro (Michael Pena, World Trade Center) who helps inspire her to take action. When latino kids are punished for speaking Spanish in class, they are disciplined for it and the manner it’s done is offensive. When latino kids are forbidden to use bathrooms during lunch because the inside of school is locked, they’re forced to urinate outside in the courtyard. And even as she sees these things, she’s dissuaded by her father Panfilo (Yancey Arias, Live Free or Die Hard). However in an era where Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King are touchstones for action, Paula thinks the same thing should be done, lawfully, to protest the conditions.
Admittedly a lot of the protests I wasn’t aware of, but Walkout certainly showed me (and a lot of other white anglos) that the latino kids had wanted to be part of America, but America seemed to subconsciously disavow itself of them. And seeing what was going on everyday in their schools, they decided to respond. The performances are pretty solid, Vega steps up to the plate in a performance that she needed to carry pretty well. Remember, she’s just a girl, who’s balancing a life as an activist and a blossoming woman, and she deals with those demands very well in the film. Pena continues to evolve into an outstanding actor in this role, and the story adheres to the real-world events as much as possible without a lot of dramatic embellishment.
The only English option is a 5.1 surround track that is pretty muted throughout, however when the walkouts start occurring near the end of the film, Carlos Santana’s soundtrack comes across pretty clear throughout, and even in the surround speakers, which surprised me. It’s a little much for this film, but it will do.
1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen viewing, presumably to accommodate the HBO HD broadcasts for the film when it aired. The presentation is fine, the film grain is visible throughout most of the film, and there are a couple of times where the print was distressed or when stock footage was used, and they look OK as well.
Well, the only extras are three commentary tracks of declining quality. The first and by far the best is one with Olmos and the real Moctesuma Esparza, who served as the producer for the film. It’s quite an interesting track, as Esparza talks about some of the hurdles to get the film made, and putting the real-life events in the context of the larger activities. Olmos provides his thoughts on the story and identifies some scenes and performances he’s proud of, and the both share some cultural insight and impact of other scenes for the Anglos who may be listening. It’s really worth listening to for both Hispanics and Anglos, and while they may run out of steam halfway, it’s still an excellent track. The second track consists of writers, Ernie Contreras and Marcus De Leon, and they bring in a little more detail on how the scenes came together, and point out lines that they’re proud of. Even though they were recorded together, the pair are a little quieter than the first track, and don’t provide the wealth of information that Olmos and Esparza do. Finally is a track with another writer, Timothy Sexton. I’m not entirely sure why his was done separately (or even not edited in) with the other writers, he tries to explain things from a larger historical standpoint, and describes some of the decisions why certain scenes were laid out the way they were. This track is easily the quietest with not a lot of information so again, why wasn’t this edited into the other writer track?
Walkout is a convincing tale about a time in American history that not many other people have been exposed to or know a lot about. There are some recognizable names that appear who provide excellent performances, and while there may not be a lot of bonus material that shows the historical events play out, it’s worth checking out on one of the sixteen HBO channels that you have right now.