Review by Camden Ferrell
In My Name is Pedro, director Lillian LaSalle sets out to make a movie about public educator, Pedro Santana. However, there is more to the story that meets the eye, and LaSalle attempts to fully explore who Santana was. Despite some slow and meandering moments, this is a documentary that is timely and very heartfelt.
Santana was an influential public educator in the Bronx, and he had such a profound impact on the school system as well as the community. Through this documentary we learn about what education means to Santana, and the film also reveals what Santana meant to education in the Bronx. He is a fascinating subject, and the backdrop of the public-school system gives the film much social relevance.
LaSalle takes an intimate approach to telling Santana’s story. The film features a lot of interviews with Santana as well as footage from many school board meetings in which he participated. She gives us an inside look into his persona, his backstory, and his methods of success. The film has a lot of great material with which to work, and it’s mostly entertaining and informative, but there are times where the film meanders despite its sufficient material.
Santana has a fascinating screen presence, and his is effortlessly charismatic. He is the perfect person to tell his own story, and he does it with a unique flair that prevents the movie from feeling dull. The movie has a wide range of people giving their personal testimonies about their experience with Santana, and while they pale in comparison to the personality of Santana himself, they are still mostly engaging.
The film ultimately tells an uplifting story about how one man can make such a profound difference in the lives of many students. We see his story as he starts as a teacher and works his way up to becoming an assistant superintendent. He is the model of what educators and administration should be, and it’s extremely heartwarming to see his pursuit of serving children. It’s rather beautiful at times, but at the same time, it can be a wake-up call to those who understand how public education isn’t achieving its full potential.
LaSalle also uses this film to exemplify why representation matters. In a district that consists mostly of people of color, it’s important to have educators like Santana at the forefront. It’s hard to justify having a school board that doesn’t properly represent their constituents. It’s enraging to see the lack of representation and accommodations that are made to minority communities, but it’s also empowering to see leaders like Santana paving the way for more diversity.
Throughout the movie, we feel Santana’s spirit, and we get to see firsthand through some great footage how much influence he had on the community and the immense respect they had for him. Even if the movie can drag a bit in the beginning, this is still a vital story about public education that will speak volumes to students and parents alike.
My Name is Pedro may not be a perfect documentary, but it’s an important story that should be seen. It’s a testament to Santana’s legacy and the true power of public education.
My Name is Pedro is currently available in virtual cinemas. A list of participating theaters can be found here.