‘Mayor Pete’ humanizes cutthroat politics 

Still from the movie Mayor Pete
Amazon Studios/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

Mayor. Veteran. Rhodes Scholar. Millennial. Pete Buttigieg represents a melting pot of so many unique traits that apply to Americans across the nation. Rather than be limited by these qualities, the new documentary “Mayor Pete” reveals that beneath Pete Buttigieg’s lofty political aspirations, there’s a human who cares. 

Released Nov. 12 on Amazon Prime, “Mayor Pete” documents Buttigieg’s growth as a political leader. While the primary focus may be about the 2020 election, the takeaways extend far beyond a small town mayor trying to become president of the United States. “Mayor Pete” transforms into a relatable documentary about a man who, finally comfortable in his own skin, just wants to bring people together and give everyone a sense of belonging. 

The film excels at storytelling. Never feeling forced, “Mayor Pete” blends together footage from Buttigieg’s speeches, debates and meetings on the campaign trail with thought-provoking singular question interviews with Buttigieg’s responses. While the in-action videos place the audience almost literally in the campaign journey, the short interviews push viewers to engage with what they are seeing and think critically about who Buttigieg is. The documentary puts viewers in an active role of analysis, rather than instilling a certain perspective.

What especially stands out, in this regard, is how “Mayor Pete” does not seek to explain everything shown. Shots of homophobic and Christian protestors outside the campaign bus are inserted between practice debate footage and Buttigieg’s travel. This kind of footage shows the audience what might be seen on the campaign trail and the obstacles Buttigieg and his team have to overcome to retain the more important goals. Importantly, it also leaves audiences to stew over the hatred he endures. 

Resisting the impulse to create propagandistic sentiment, “Mayor Pete” is frank in showing the challenges Buttigieg faces and how he tries to overcome them — and he’s not necessarily successful all the time.

An important aspect of growth that the film captures is Pete’s emotional expression. A product of fear of ostracization, being gay in a conservative town has clearly impacted Pete’s personality, shaping him to be more introspective. Consequently, he often appears less outwardly emotional, almost mechanical. Lis Smith, senior communications director of the campaign, often critiqued him for his lack of apparent emotion in his practice debates and speeches. 

As the documentary progresses, he flourishes as a speaker who easily engages audiences and is a force to be reckoned with in the debates. Watching Pete struggle with relevant identity issues brings politics down to the viewer’s level, reminding the audience that any politician is a human being too and faces the same personal issues. 

Emphasizing Buttigieg’s humanity, “Mayor Pete” impressively builds his character to extend far beyond a man who wants to be president. Interspersed with the campaign footage and interview scenes are video clips of Pete just being himself. Most notably, there’s a 13-second pinkie tap with his husband Chasten Buttigieg as a symbol of love shared between the two even when they only get a short moment to themselves. Whether it’s playing Triominos with his family or petting his dogs, Pete feels the same urges everyone does. “Mayor Pete” successfully develops a connection between viewers and Pete that has the audience rooting for him despite the known outcome of the 2020 presidency. 

One fatal flaw the film reveals about Buttigieg is his approach to racial issues. “Mayor Pete” reveals certain flaws in his campaign strategy, exploring the difficulties for any white male to relate to and consequently represent people of color. 

Ultimately, Pete’s loss of candidacy becomes irrelevant in the face of the film’s broader message of hope. Driven by his compassion and love for people, Buttigieg has a simple goal to bring them together. “Mayor Pete” leaves viewers with the optimistic message that even the ordinary can become something extraordinary if they find the right driving forces. 

The documentary “Mayor Pete” is a masterpiece that gives audiences a real glimpse into the campaign trail and bridges the gap between politician and citizen, reminding viewers that everyone deserves a chance to belong. 

Contact Sejal Krishnan at [email protected].