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Stand and Deliver: A Story Revisited

Before We Begin

We acknowledge that some Latinx folx are under the impression that “Stand and Deliver” like many other films falls victim to a kind of savior complex via the way it is shown in schools today. Some educators have a tendency to use it as a way to teach determination by proxy, and that is a problem. The idea that teaching students of color are often labeled as “cross to bear” and any success in that mission is often used as a “badge of honor'' was a problem when the movie was released and is still a problem today.

We at Latinx 4 Social Movement believe that the mission of education should be completed for the sake of education itself and not for the benefit of one’s ego.

Those who subscribe to the aforementioned criticism also argue that the film perpetuates the idea that students who grow up in urban environments all need “saving.” We understand the frustration that kind of ideology creates; what bothers us the most is we see that kind of depiction in mass media today, just look at “Mr. Iglesias” on Netflix. However, though we agree with the above criticism, this post will be about film on the merit of the film itself, not it’s application in classrooms but rather it’s popular cultural impact.

Now let’s get on with today’s lesson, an analysis of the film “Stand and Deliver.”

It has been over thirty years since Stand and Deliver was released and it remains a key part of the U.S. Latinx film canon. It stars Edward James Olmos as Jaime Escalante , a dutiful and energizing math teacher at an East LA high school. When faced with a group of rowdy (and mostly Latinx) students, he leans into an unorthodox teaching (coupled with some unfortunate slurs and comments that sexualized a Latina student in the film). The story that follows, which has his class over-performing in their AP Calculus exams at the end of the year.

The students performance in the AP Calculus exam is deemed irregular, due to the unlikely occurrence of “inner city school students” achieving passing scores, and labeled a cause for investigation, thereby forcing a re-test and eventually causing all students to pass. This story is all the more inspiring given that it’s based on a true story.

Garfield High School (the school featured in this movie) is set in an environment that is economically weak and filled with minority groups. Societal influences pull students in these types of schools away from education. Garfield was known to be a neglected high school in a Latinx neighborhood. Educators at Garfield assumed all students were gang members and “unteachables” because of their background. This act of discrimination has been a long time problem for inner city schools in East Los Angeles. Though the film doesn’t go far enough into the nuances of what creates these systemic issues, it was one of the first films to address it. And as we have said time and time again change at times is often incremental.

Education is a human right, and this film highlights (though not explicitly) the inherent inequality surrounding an educational system that funds itself purely with property taxes. “Stand and Deliver,” shows examples on how students were (and are) treated unequally and received a less quality education just because they came from a poor neighborhood.

And by shining a light on these inequalities it’s clear it’s goal is to affect change.

In December 2011, Stand and Deliver was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. The Registry said the film was “one of the most popular of a new wave of narrative feature films produced in the 1980s by Latino filmmakers” and that it “celebrates in a direct, approachable, and impactful way, values of self-betterment through hard work and power through knowledge.”

In short, “Stand and Deliver” is a movie that anyone can relate to. It’s the story of leadership, self-determination, and hard work. All tried and true elements to the lexicon of the uniquely human stories we should all bear witness to.

The main characters could have been from any ethnic background. What makes this story special is that the movie stars Latinx characters as the heroes, at a time when it was rare to see any Latinx actors on screen.


"2011 National Film Registry More Than a Box of Chocolates". Library of Congress. December 28, 2011

“Stand and Deliver’ Actress Vanessa Marquez Killed by Police” by Kristen Lopez

“A Latina Student’s Plea: Please Stop Talking About 'Stand and Deliver” by Adriana Heldiz

“Stand and Deliver’ Is Beloved By Latinos, But What Did Film Critics Think 30 Years Ago?” by Manual Betancourt

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