As the title reflects, Pinero is a film that came out in 2001 about Puerto Rican playwright-poet-actor Miguel Pinero. After doing hard time in New York’s infamous Sing Sing state prison for drug-dealing and petty theft, he turned his prison experiences into the Tony Award-nominated play Short Eyes. Then, as a founder of the famed Nuyorican Poets Café on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Pinero crafted an influential style of rhythmic urban poetry that is widely recognized as a precursor to rap and hip-hop. Benjamin Bratt does a fine job playing Pinero and Rita Moreno plays his mother. The movie is written and directed by Leon Ichaso with John Leguizamo as the executive director.
If you are not aware of how Pinero died at the age of 40 in 1988 due to the ravages his heroin addiction took on his body, then towards the end of the film you are hoping for a wonderful Hollywood ending where he would break his habit and go on to write other great plays and more poetry. Obviously, such was not the ending.
The film is flawed and hard to follow at times due to its non-chronological sequencing. You wish that they had some of the characters developed more fully. But the film does a good job of giving the viewer a glimpse of Pinero’s life and times.
Mandy Patinkin plays the play producer Joseph Papp who puts his trust in Pinero only to be let down time and again. He has the best line in the film when he remarks how some creative people, like Pinero, are able to give us insights that are powerful and moving because of the pain they are going through (this is a very loose summary of his remarks).
So what does the life of Pinero tell us worth remembering? That creativity can require a lot of pain? That heroin addiction is hard to break? That fame isn’t enough of a motivator if you are going to change your life? That prejudice can stunt a person’s emotional growth? Yes, all these things are true and are part of the story. But don’t jump to conclusions. Creativity doesn’t require a painful life, addiction can be broken, fame can be a positive motivator, and prejudice can be a positive force in a person’s emotional growth.
Pinero was able to find greater moments, moments of flow, in prison than out of it! So what does that tell us?
The play was made into an excellent movie, a better movie than Pinero. The movie Short Eyes (which is prison slang for child molester) came out in 1979 and the script is by Pinero and Pinero acts in the movie. The movie is about a child molester who enters prison to have the inmates act out their own form of revenge against him. It was filmed on location at New York City’s Men’s House of Detention, nicknamed “The Tombs” and is well worth watching, especially if you are interested in knowing more about the criminal justice system.