By Jeff Walsh
"Pedro," which airs on MTV and LOGO tonight (April 1) is the story of Pedro Zamora, a Cuban-American who found out he was HIV-positive at age 17, and took his desire to speak out to a huge audience as a member of MTV's The Real World. He died in 1994, several hours after the season finale ended.
The movie itself was a strange flashback for me, since his story was so urgent to me at the time and so many of the scenes from that season are burned into my memory. So, it was somewhat strange seeing actors portraying people I knew from a reality TV and recreating famous scenes. At first, it almost seemed like the movie could star Pedro himself, but then the story becomes bigger than his brief time on the show, and we learn about his life before The Real World.
One of the saddest lines in the movie is when Pedro says he needs to speak out and educate people, so less people get infected. When he was saying this, the AIDS epidemic had already been going for more than a decade, and reducing the infection rate seemed possible. To my knowledge, though, the infection rate has never significantly lowered since the beginning of the epidemic, if it has at all. So, the movie is another chance to educate more people, spread information, and save lives.
Written by Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Milk, "Pedro" does have similar takeaways. Pedro and Harvey both lived lives that were shorter than they should have been. They both did amazing things with the time they did have. And they lived with such an overflowing humanity that was amazingly captured by two great actors. Penn won the Oscar for his portrayal, and Alex Loynaz does a masterful job bringing Pedro's warmth and humanity to life for a new generation.
One of the interesting parts of the movie was to see how purposeful Zamora's appearance on the show was, seeing that it was only the third season of The Real World. It was far less defined than it is now (Brooklyn is the 21st season), where it's assumed that the show can be a launching pad and platform for other things, so just seeing how Zamora was intentionally there to send his message to MTV's audience showed how important he felt AIDS education is. But, at the same time, his mission didn't undermine how his castmates and audiences connected with him as a warm, loving person.
His relationship with Sean Sasser was also documented on the show, as well as this movie, including an informal marriage ceremony with just the two of them sharing their love and exchanging rings. Within a few hours of his season of The Real World wrapping up, Zamora died in Florida, with a media circus, a public memorial on MTV, and President Bill Clinton calling him before he died, and contributing a video message for the memorial.
Like Harvey Milk, Pedro Zamora made wonderful use of the time he was given to be here. Both stories have tragedy, but also joy, life, and hope. This movie captures all of those elements beautifully. Watch it tonight.