#107) Stand and Deliver (1988)


#107) Stand and Deliver (1988)

OR “Olmos Famous”

Directed by Ramón Menéndez

Written by Menéndez and Tom Musca

Class of 2011

The Plot: “Stand and Deliver” is the inspirational true story of teacher Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos). Arriving as a math teacher at East L.A.’s Garfield High School in the early ‘80s, Escalante is saddened to see that the school has given up on improving its low test scores. Escalante decides to turn this around by teaching Algebra, with the goal of his students taking AP Calculus by their senior year. Despite initial pushback from his students, they learn to respect their teacher and apply themselves. But interference by the Educational Testing Service may stand between the students and their future.

Why It Matters: The NFR cites Olmos’ performance and the film’s inspirational qualities, in addition to its stature as “one of the most popular” of the wave of ‘80s films by Latinx filmmakers.

But Does It Really?: Every “inspirational teacher” film tries to be this one, but there’s only one “Stand and Deliver”. It’s not easy to make AP Calculus dramatically enticing, but this film does it, thanks to an easy-going but well-paced screenplay and an incredible performance by Olmos at its core. “Stand and Deliver” has a place on the Registry for its lasting impact, its refreshingly stereotype-free look at a Latinx community, and for still maintaining its inspirational spirit almost 30 years later.

Everybody Gets One: Almost everyone involved in this film, most notably director Ramón Menéndez and actors Andy Garcia and Lou Diamond Phillips**. Plus a reminder that Estelle Harris, aka Mrs. Costanza, has a film on the National Film Registry.

Wow, That’s Dated: That score is pure ‘80s. Also be on the lookout for a reference to “The People’s Court” and inspirational posters featuring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson.

Title Track: No one says “stand and deliver” during the film, but stick around for an end credits title song!

Seriously, Oscars?: “Stand and Deliver” received one Oscar nomination; Best Actor for Edward James Olmos. Despite a physical transformation and a chance to show Hollywood he was more than just that guy from “Miami Vice”, Olmos lost to Dustin Hoffman’s performance as an autistic savant in “Rain Man”. Despite this loss, “Stand and Deliver” swept that year’s Independent Spirit Awards.

Other notes

  • Overall, the film’s depiction of historical events is what I call “Sergeant York Accurate”; they get the main events correct, they just fudge a few details.
  • That opening shot is kind of brilliant.
  • Nice rare dramatic turn by Herbie the Love Bug as Jaime’s car.
  • Olmos is great in this film. His Jaime does not fuck around from the very start.
  • That’s Edward James Olmos’ real-life son Bodie Olmos as Jaime’s son Fernando. Bodie is also the grandson of Howard Keel (his mother is Keel’s daughter Kaija).
  • For all its positive attributes, this film falls victim to classroom scenes that end with a bell ringing during a dramatic moment.
  • This is all well and good, but just remember that Jaime didn’t have to compete against teens with smart phones.
  • I would love to have seen Jaime Escalante do a stand-up routine.
  • The role of Jaime’s wife Fabiola is essentially just Mrs. Exposition. I’m amazed Rosanna DeSoto won Best Supporting Actress at the Independent Spirit Awards with this little for her character to do.
  • Boy it’s great that this film is such a relic of its time and that public schools are no longer as test-obsessed nowadays, right?….Right?
  • What I wouldn’t give for the last shot to be a mailman’s body stuffed in Angel’s locker.
  • Andy Garcia gives us a brief moment of Pacino-esque outburst towards the end.
  • According to the end credits, this film was partially funded by PBS, which no doubt means contributions from Viewers Like You. Thank you.
  • Actual Credit: Mr. Olmos’ Hair Design – Ziggy. Of course it’s not that Ziggy, but a man can dream.


  • This film is responsible for the ‘90s “inspirational teacher” subgenre in which teachers go to inner city high schools, sit in a chair backwards and teach kids that poetry is just another form of rapping. See “Dangerous Minds” or “High School High” for examples.
  • A “South Park” episode that dares to ask the question; “How do I reach these kids?”
  • Lou Diamond Phillips went on to play “The King and I” on Broadway. That’s not directly related to this film, I just like reminding people that that happened.
  • The real Jaime Escalante approved of the film, calling it “90 percent truth, 10 percent drama”. After the national attention he received, Escalante’s calculus program grew well beyond what he or the school could handle. Escalante left Garfield High in 1991, but continued to teach at other schools for many years. Edward James Olmos and other “Stand and Deliver” cast members helped pay for Escalante’s cancer treatment prior to his death in 2010.


**2017 Update: They just added Lou Diamond Phillips’ other ’80s breakthrough role: “La Bamba”.

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