Maverick Spirit Award: Edward James Olmos

Mav Spirit Edward James O

Maverick Spirit Award: Edward James Olmos

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"...I did not come out of my mother's womb saying 'to be or not to be' with a Spanish accent. I came from a dysfunctional family. I'm a minority. I have no natural talent, but I did it. If I can do it, anybody can do it. I take away the excuses."

– Edward James Olmos, Academy Award Nominated Actor for Stand and Deliver

Edward James Olmos was born in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles. He describes his ethnically diverse neighborhood as a “salad bowl” because each culture kept its own unique qualities, blending into the whole without losing its individual flavor. As a result of his childhood experience he welcomes diversity and believes that there is only one race: the human race. As an actor and activist, Mr. Olmos’ steadfast commitment to the creation of a better world has driven him to bring his best effort to any task he undertakes whether on stage, on film or in the community.

Mr. Olmos’ rich, multi-cultural experience equipped him to launch his acting career as El Pachuco in Zoot Suit, a play about the 1942 “Sleepy Lagoon” case in which Hispanic youths were wrongfully convicted of murder.

At his audition, Olmos wowed them with his ability to speak caló, a street jive dialect that is a blend of English, Spanish and Gypsy. For his role, Mr. Olmos won a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, a Theatre World Award and a nomination for a Tony Award. The authenticity and passion he brought to this socially relevant play set the tone for his future efforts in film.


Highlights of his acting career include playing “Gaff” in Blade Runner and Lieutenant Martin Castillo in the popular television series, Miami Vice for which he was awarded an Emmy. His role as Jaime A. Escalante in Stand and Deliver earned him an Academy Award nomination. In 1994, he won the Golden Globe Award for his role in the The Burning Season. Currently, he stars as Commander Adama in the Sci-Fi Channel’s breakout hit, Battle Star Galactica. Mr. Olmos is renowned for bringing passion and authenticity to his work.

His artistic vision was at full force in his directorial debut, the anti-gang master piece, American Me. Mr. Olmos not only delivered a riveting performance as gang leader Montoya Santana, but also established himself as a brilliant producer and director with a rich understanding of the craft of filmmaking.

Olmos is currently completing his latest directing effort, Walkout. Set in the turbulent 1960's, Walkout is the story of the birth of the Chicano civil rights movement and a testimony to the inspired leadership and courage of those who led the way: a high school teacher and a 17-year-old Latina, who literally changed the world.

A tireless activist, Mr. Olmos has devoted much of his time to helping others. He frequently visits Boys Clubs, schools, colleges and youth correction facilities. He has won countless humanitarian awards including Harvard’s Multi-Cultural Award. He received the John Anson Ford Award from the Los Angeles Commission on Human Relations for his efforts after the 1992 L.A. riot. He has been awarded six honorary doctorates from distinguished institutions of higher learning.

Mr. Olmos once said of artistic endeavor, “You’re not competing against people, you’re just trying to be the best you can be...When you do that, you become aware of the fact that whether or not you become financially successful, or whether or not you become a well known personality, that isn’t the real issue. The issue, quote end quote, is, ‘Are you really the best you can be?’..."

For his commitment to being the best that he can be in the film arts and community activism, Cinequest is proud to present Edward James Olmos with the festival’s highest honor, the Maverick Spirit Award.

This inspirational evening will include a conversation with Mr. Olmos and a sneak preview viewing of his latest film WALKOUT, a powerful story of the Chicano Civil Rights movement.


For this special celebration, Cinequest is honored to have Mary J. Greenwood, Santa Clara County’s first female Public Defender interview Mr. Olmos. Ms. Greenwood recently received the Santa Clara County Bar Association's Attorney of the Year award for Professionalism. In 2003, she was Women Defenders of California Outstanding Criminal Defense Attorney. A tireless advocate for the indigent, Mrs. Greenwood shares Mr. Olmos’ commitment to community service.