Movies about amazing teachers that break down barriers and fight the system tend to be very popular. They have iconic scenes and quotes that become immortalized. My Name is Pedro is about one of these quotable figures. The difference is it is a documentary and not an inspirational work of fiction. But does it have the same impact?
The subject of the film is Pedro Santana. Santana is an educator who spent the majority of his career in the South Bronx. My Name is Pedro chronicles Santana’s life. At the same time, it showcases his passion for education. Santana’s charisma is immediately apparent. He is one of those people whose positive attitude is described as infectious. He is animated, fun to listen, and very charming. The audience is immediately fascinated by him.
Seeing him at school and working with kids are the highlight of My Name is Pedro. Santana’s enthusiasm shines through in these moments. His methods are unconventional (and in some cases, questionable), but it is obvious every decision he makes is out of love for his students. These scenes are so powerful when the documentary pivots in another direction it becomes slightly disappointing.
My Name is Pedro does an excellent job of telling its story. The film is an unflinching look at what Santana has accomplished. Interviews with parents, students, and teachers show the effect he has had. It can be melodramatic at times, but that is also the nature of the story. The genuine emotion of the documentary can be overpowering.
The film is very topical. Over the course of My Name is Pedro, Santana goes through many ups and downs. Through it all, he has one goal: to help other people. The documentary is unafraid to show how democracy can fail. It also highlights how those in power can hold down those without any. It is not shocking, but it is still frustrating and sad.
My Name is Pedro sounds like another story about an educator bringing change by fighting against the odds. There is some of that, but it is more about passion and hope. The story is also very poignant in today’s world. Director Lillian LaSalle does a wonderful job of showcasing how one person can enact change. It is powerful and moving.