Dustin Lance Black has made me cry again. The Academy-Award-winning screenwriter of “Milk” takes on the life of another dead gay hero in “Pedro,” which premieres April 1 on Logo, MTV and associated networks.
In 1994 Pedro Zamora put a face on the AIDS epidemic for Generation X the way Rock Hudson and others had done for their parents and grandparents in the preceding decade. Infected in his teens, he capped off five years of public speaking, mostly age-appropriate lectures in schools but including testimony before Congress, by appearing on MTV’s “The Real World: San Francisco” as one of the seven strangers sharing a house.
Born in Cuba in 1972, Pedro comes to Miami in the 1980 Mariel Boatlift with half of his family. Five older brothers are held back because they are “of military age.” Pedro is close to his sister Mily (Justina Machado), especially after their mother dies.
When he is 17 Pedro (Alex Loynaz) tests positive for HIV after giving blood in a high school drive. Mily accepts his coming out better than their father does.
Being naturally open and honest, not to mention handsome and charismatic, Pedro is a perfect fit for a speakers program to warn other teenagers about the dangers of HIV while also dispelling myths about gay men and people with AIDS in general.
When he hears about “The Real World” it seems like a natural extension of his activism, a chance to get his message across to a wider audience. He charms the producers (“I like roller-skating, Madonna and butch black men”), who feel he will fit into the show’s diverse mix.
Much of “Pedro” is narrated by cartoonist Judd Winick (Hale Appleman), Pedro’s “Real World” roommate, but the show itself is summarized in about 15 minutes, including Pedro winning over Republican Rachel (Karolin Luna) and emerging victorious from a him-or-me showdown with obnoxious bike messenger Puck (Matt Barr).
Pedro and Judd both find love during the season, but not with each other. Judd bonds with housemate Pam Ling (Jenn Liu) while Pedro renews his acquaintance with fellow activist Sean Sasser (DaJuan Johnson), leading to an exchange of vows and rings on the show long before gay marriage would become a legal possibility.
“Pedro” begins in August 1994, shortly after “The Real World” has begun airing. Pedro collapses in a New York hotel room and is rushed to the hospital. Most of the story is told in flashbacks, but a long final half-hour is largely devoted to his decline and inevitable death on the night America is watching the final episode.
Like “Milk,” “Pedro” is sometimes joyous but often wrenchingly painful to relive, especially if you’re one of the millions who fell in love with Pedro Zamora watching “The Real World.” Loynaz is good-looking and good-acting but doesn’t have the one-in-a-billion quality that made the real Pedro so special.
Like Pedro, “Pedro” is “always on-message,” and current HIV infection rates show it’s still essential to get that message out there. Incidental messages about Latin families accepting their gay children are also relevant.
Don’t write “Pedro” off as a tear-jerking Movie of the Week. It is that, but it’s also a significant part of our story and, for many of us, an invaluable piece of nostalgia.
info: ‘Pedro’ premieres on Logo, MTV and other associated networks on April 1. Check your local listings for times.
Photo credits: Bunim-Murray Films