×

“Grown-ish” star Francia Raisa and “13 Reasons Why” executive producer Mandy Teefey are teaming on a feature film about the key 1946 Mendez vs. Westminster school desegregation case.

The duo began working on the project this year and quickly became convinced that the story had resonance in today’s society. They were able to persuade the Mendez family to support the project, they said.

“We are so honored that the Mendez Family has entrusted us with the opportunity to tell their story,” Raisa and Teefey said. “Mendez vs Westminster deserves wide recognition for their fight against segregated schools and the equal treatment of Mexican-American students, and we are proud to help showcase this moment that has been bypassed in history.”

The Mendez family said, “Although we have been approached in the past about doing a movie, after several conversations and a meeting with Francia and Mandy, we are confident that they are the right people to tell our story.”

Gonzalo Mendez was one of five Mexican-American fathers who were plaintiffs in the case, which asserted that their children, along with 5000 other children of Mexican ancestry, were victims of unconstitutional discrimination by being forced to attend separate “schools for Mexicans” in the Westminster, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and El Modena school districts of Orange County. Those districts would not enroll the students because they were dark-skinned and had Hispanic surnames, they argued.

During the trial, the Westminster school board claimed the enrollment denials were due to language issues, but testimonies showed that most of the children spoke English. A federal judge in Los Angeles presided at the trial and ruled in favor of Mendez and his co-plaintiffs in finding separate schools for Mexicans to be an unconstitutional denial of equal protection.

The school district appealed to the Ninth Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which upheld Judge McCormick’s decision finding that the segregation practices violated the Fourteenth Amendment. In January 1948, the Mendez family children were allowed to attend the 17th Street Elementary school – becoming some of the first Hispanics to attend an all-white school in California.

The case was the subject of Sandra Robbie’s documentary “Mendez vs. Westminster: For All the Children/Para Todos los Niños,” which won an Emmy. Both Raisa and Teefey asserted that they have been motivated to proceed because the case is far less known than the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court  declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional.

“It’s a very personal story for me because I was turned away from kindergarten when I was five because I could not speak English,” Raisa said. “Hardly anyone knows this story. I got a very strong reaction when I talked about it at the Alma Awards last week.”

Raisa’s credits date back more than a decade and include “Bring It On: All or Nothing,” “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” and Freeform’s “Grown-ish” as Ana Torres. She donated one of her kidneys last year to Selena Gomez due to her lupus.

Popular on Variety