Working For Change: Our Review of ‘My Name is Pedro’

In telling Pedro Santana’s story, director and producer Lillian LaSalle employs techniques that a regular documentary uses. There’s the sit down interviews with his siblings telling viewers about Pedro’s time in the peace corps in Kenya. In moving back to the Bronx, New York, he saw the same ‘third world’ conditions. LaSalle then shows the outside of those Bronx area businesses, hours after many people have vandalized those walls. Other directors would have framed such neighborhoods as scary, irredeemable places. But she adds some music in capturing such neighborhoods, signaling both the hard work and hope in making change possible.

The changes that Pedro Santana implements mostly involve the East Ramapo school district in New York State. And while other pieces of media like podcasts choose to depict that district’s problems on a macro sense, the film chooses a more personal angle. Outside of the interview scenes, it shows us Pedro interact with students and his family. A trip with his mother to the nail salon shows how much he’s willing to give back to the people. His family and community, after all, helped him become the person that he was. These scenes also reinforce the multicultural demographics of the neighborhood where he lives and works.

Again, this film touches on the East Ramapo school district, which a podcast already tackled. The film brings us up close with the town halls meetings where community members did their best to plead with Pedro and the other superintendents to work together, despite the latter’s reluctance. Most of the superintendents are of the Jewish faith who funneled money to fund private schools. That means that they also cut budgets for schools where the students were mostly people of color. The film does its best to depict these superintendents’ corruption without attaching that to their faith, but the baggage is still there.

Another hurdle that My Name is Pedro faces is that it feels a little bit like a puff piece. But to be fair, how else can a film depict such a man other than to do it positively, especially one who dealt with corruption? Another thing that helps Pedro and the film is what he does after. He, by the way, moved temporarily to Haiti to teach in not for profit schools. There’s one last thing that this film has on its side. Pedro happens to be the third most famous Pedro Santana, making the story’s twists surprising.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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