Friday, October 5, 2018

Stand and Deliver (1988) Turned 30

Dedicated to the memory of my dearest Vanessa Marquez

This past March 11 (coincidentally the day after my birthday) marked the thirtieth anniversary of the movie Stand and Deliver (1988). Stand and Deliver was a groundbreaking film in many ways. It was one of the earliest American films to be directed by a Latino (Ramón Menéndez), written by Latinos (Ramón Menéndez and Tom Musca), and to feature a primarily Latino cast. What is more, unlike many films made in the Eighties and earlier, Stand and Deliver did not rely on stereotypes.

Stand and Deliver was based on the true story of Jaime Escalante, a Bolivian immigrant who taught calculus at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, California from 1974 to 1991. Mr. Escalante had enormous success teaching calculus to his students. By the time of his last year teaching at Garfield High School, 570 students were taking calculus.

It was in 1984 that recent UCLA film school graduate Ramón Menéndez read an article on Jaime Escalante in the newspaper. He turned to his friend Tom Musca to serve as producer and co-writer on a film about Mr. Escalante. It would take the two of them six months to persuade Jaime Escalante to sell them to the rights to do a film about him. A number of different production companies turned down Messrs. Menéndez and Musca, seeing the film as not being commercial enough. The two men finally received a $12,0000 grant from the PBS anthology show American Playhouse.

With the script completed, Ramón Menéndez and Tom Musca were able to hire Edward James Olmost to play the role of Jaime Escalante. At the time he was playing  Lieutenant Martin "Marty" Castillo on the TV show Miami Vice. They were also able to hire Lou Diamond Phillips who was fresh from playing Ritchie Valens in the 1987 film La Bamba. Andy Garcia, who had recently appeared in The Untouchables (1987), was hired to play the small role of Ramirez from the Educational Testing Service. The rest of the cast was largely filled by young unknown actors. At the point that the film was cast, it was still titled Walking on Water.

Initially meant for public television, Stand and Deliver was financed through a variety of sources, including the National Science Foundation and the Atlantic-Richfield Corporation. It was after the film was shown at the Mill Valley Film Festival that Stand and Deliver became a theatrical release. Warner Bros. picked up distribution for the film and released it to theatres on March 11 1988.

Stand and Deliver received largely positive reviews from critics. It also received one Academy Award nomination. Edward James Olmos was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Stand and Deliver swept the Film Independent Awards, winning the awards for Best Feature, Best Director, Best Male Lead (for Edward James Olmos), Best Supporting Female (for Rosanna DeSoto), Best Supporting Male (Lou Diamond Phillips), and Best Screenplay. It won the Imagen Foundation Award for Best Film, and the Nosotros Golden Eagle Award for Best Film as well. At the Young Artists Awards the film's young cast won the Michael Landon Award. In 2011 Stand and Deliver was selected for for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Given that it was originally meant for public television, it should come as no surprise that Stand and Deliver made its television debut on the PBS series American Playhouse on March 15 1989.

Today Stand and Deliver is widely regarded as a classic and there should be little wonder. Ramón Menéndez and Tom Musca not only wrote an script that is free of ethnic stereotypes, but one that is also inspiring without being overly emotional or schmaltzy. The film also benefits from some impressive performances. It is little wonder that Edward James Olmos received an Oscar nomination for his role as Jaime Escalante. He fully committed himself to the role, even having his hair thinned and gaining 40 pounds to more resemble. Mr. Escalante. Lou Diamond Phillips also gave a good turn as Angel Guzman, the rebel who must balance his school studies with life on the streets.

The young cast, many of them newcomers to film, also gave solid performances. Ingrid Oliu did well as Lupe Escobar, who must help raise her siblings while trying to study calculus. Will Gotay is impressive as Pancho, a young mechanic who struggles with calculus more than some of the other students. Stand and Deliver marked the film debut of Vanessa Marquez, and it was an exceptional debut for the then 18 year old actress. Vanessa played Ana Delgado, the exceptionally bright, but shy student who wanted to go to medical school despite her father's insistence she work at his restaurant. In preparation for her role, Vanessa sat in on Jaime Escalante's class for several days.

In real life Jaime Escalante taught at Garfield High School until 1991. Afterwards he taught at Hiram W. Johnson High School in Sacramento, California. Sadly, in 2010 Mr. Escalante developed cancer. Vanessa Marquez, other cast members from Stand and Deliver, and former pupils helped lead fundraising efforts to help with his medical bills. He died on March 30 2010 at the age of 79.

Stand and Deliver was a pioneering film in many respects. It was one of several feature films made by Latinos in the late Eighties that defied stereotypes that had existed in Hollywood for decades. It was one of the earliest American films to be directed, written,, and produced by Latinos, and to feature a primarily Latino cast. It is also an excellent film with a great script and filled with great performances from its cast. It should be little wonder that Stand and Deliver is now regarded as a classic.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

You have put a spotlight on an important story and an important movie. It will live long in the memories of all who see it.