Biopic captures ‘Real’ impact of TV’s first HIV-positive gay character
Director: Nick Oceano
Cast: Alex Loynaz, Justina Machado and DaJuan Johnson
Premiere: Apr. 1 at 7 p.m. on Logo and MTV.
1 hr. 33 min. Not rated.
Dustin Lance Black has made me cry again. The Oscar-winning screenwriter of "Milk" takes on the life of another dead gay hero in "Pedro," which premieres Wednesday on Logo and MTV.
In 1994, Pedro Zamora put a face on the AIDS epidemic for Generation X — the way Rock Hudson did in the preceding decade. Infected in his teens, Zamora capped off five years of public speaking 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’s 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.
Handsome and charismatic, Pedro was an ideal speaker to warn teens about HIV while also dispelling myths about gay men and AIDS in general.
"The Real World" 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" began 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 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.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 27, 2009.