Conferencing with the boys this weekend meant that we had the chance to have a movie night at Dean GQ’s casa like old times.🙂 Several of us have been debating whether to watch Pedro, a film based on the life and death of former Real World SF participant and activist Pedro Zamora who died Nov 11, 1994 of AIDs related complications.
My own mixed feelings came from a promo for the film that compared Puck’s oppression based acting out to Pedro’s own disappointment at not getting more air time b/c he had joined the cast of the Real World to raise awareness about HIV/AIDs. I was concerned that the project was financed and directed by the Real World Team. The potential for MTV to spin Pedro’s life in ways that would benefit the television station and/or the show was high. I worried that they would soft peddle the ways they allowed tensions between Pedro and Puck to go unchecked during filming, even when it posed health hazards, and how they have continued to make money off of Puck (and other seemingly bigoted people or people involved in bigoted moments in their reality shows) by providing ongoing platforms for them while ignoring or minimizing the ongoing exposure of those people who actually worked to make social justice choices in their lives; after all, if we’ve learned anything from reality tv it is that obnoxious or bigoted sells.
The boys also worried that the Pedro some of them had known personally and all of them have been inspired by in their lives and their careers would disappear into a poorly funded and/or poorly executed film.
On the other hand, I was excited to hear that Pedro Zamora’s life story would get a chance to influence a new generation of youth, especially youth of color, around the topics of sexuality, honesty, and HIV/AIDs. I could not imagine a better script writer than Dustin Lance Black who was a fan of the Real World and inspired by Pedro. Black’s work on Harvey Milk, who also inspired him, was academy award winning and his acceptance speech highlighted his powerful and passionate soul. Black is also committed to HIV/AIDs activism who recognized that Pedro had made the message about awareness accessible and relevant to communities largely ignored by mainstream education projects.
Ultimately, we decided to watch it b/c Pedro was such an important figure to all of us. My own use of MTV films in my classroom also gave us hope for production values and critical analysis of the important issues embedded in Pedro’s life. As a group, we were also the same folks I wrote about bursting into collective tears when Black accepted his academy award, so you know . . . we had high hopes for his writing talent in this film as well.
Pedro Zamora was an important activist for AIDs and HIV awareness, especially among youth and communities of color. He wrote a book, did radio and television interviews, spoke in schools, rallies, and at events, and stayed on the Real World despite emotionally damaging and sometimes physically threatening circumstances. His activism and stint on the Real World encouraged youth of color and white youth to embrace who they were and work to fight the spread of AIDs and HIV that are disproportionately impacting communities of color. He initially worked raising awareness in Miami amongst his own Cuban community and then outward to other communities in the same area. Unlike other large urban centers, Miami did not have a huge HIV/AIDs movement at the time, making Pedro’s work essential. When he fell in love with a San Fran resident and activist, he joined the HIV/AIDs fight there but also parlayed his stint on the Real World to national level awareness campaigns. For a certain generation of Xueers, he was a hero whose honesty and struggles made him wonderfully human.
The film about his life gives us small glimpses into his dynamic story. Through vignettes and flashbacks, we learn about his mother’s struggle with cancer, his sister’s initial heterosexism, and the growing relationship between him and his partner. Despite my misgivings, the MTV portion of the film is minimal; while it does not valorize the show, it does present a largely benign relationship which I think is misleading. Much of the film is done in flashbacks, with a disjointed narrative that not only moves back and forth between time but also between seemingly unconnected moments. This style makes it hard to connect with the film or become enmeshed in the story. Worse, the narrative stays on the surface, failing to give us a clear picture of Pedro as a person or activist when he is healthy.
As Pedro becomes ill, the film abandons disjointed narrative for a linear one based in character development and plot. The shift greatly enhances the film, by finally telling us who the people in Pedro’s life are and how they interact with him and cope with his illness. The writing and acting are strong in this section of the film and speak to how much better this film could have been if they had trusted the audience to invest in the life of a Xueer Latino with AIDs. Unfortunately, by the time they trust us as viewers and themselves as writers and directors, Pedro has already fallen ill and cannot even talk. He is a ghost in the strongest part of his own story and that is a terrible shame.
I wanted to like Pedro the film in the same way that I had loved Pedro the activist, and I am sad to say, I did not. While I don’t regret having watched the film nor do I think other people familiar with Pedro Zamora will, if they see it, I’m not sure there is enough of a storyline and/or information at the beginning of the film to make non-fans keep watching. Despite strong acting and powerful resource material, Nick Oceano’s directorial decisions ultimately robbed viewers of Pedro’s voice and the things that made him so important to a generation and a cause. While the first half of Black’s script falters the second was powerful and will tug at your heart as Pedro fights from within illness induced silence to keep his lover involved in his life despite his family’s interference and then slowly withers away on screen. The final images of actual footage of Pedro’s commitment ceremony and updates on what happened to all of the major characters is perhaps the hardest to weather because it reminds you of how many people were impacted by Pedro’s life and that he is really gone in ways the film fails to do.
Pedro initially aired on MTV in April of 2008. It was highly rated by other reviewers whose reviews praised the film for providing some previously unknown information about his life, but also largely criticized the production value and format. The rights are currently owned by lesbian owned Wolfe Video. You can watch it on DVD through netflix or buy it directly from Wolfe Video or other mainstream distributors. You can read the full plot of the film here.
- Pedro the Movie promotional image/unattibuted
- Pedro Zamora/unattributed
- Pedro and his partner Sean on set of Real World/unattributed/MTV Productions