SAMSÓN AND ME System Impact Journalism-Film Project 2023 – 5th in a Series of Opinion Pieces by WORD Writers

Editor’s Note

Represent Justice Journalism Project: SANSÓN AND ME, directed by Rodrigo Reyes, premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival and subsequently won best film award at the Sheffield Doc/Fest June 23-28, 2022. The film is a portrait of a young man, Sansón Noe Andrade, serving a life sentence in prison; he was sentenced when he was just 19. The film raises essential questions about ethnic communities and those of color impacted by incarceration and the treatment of undocumented immigrants. It also raises questions about ethics and consent in storytelling as well as other matters and issues of significant importance.

The editor for this publication is an assistant journalism professor who believed students enrolled in one of his advanced journalism reporting classes could benefit from writing opinion pieces to be published about issues raised in this film and at the very least what touched them – thus the project.


So Writes Shannon McGee: SANSÓN AND ME is a compelling heartbreaker by filmmaker Rodrigo Reyes about a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico living in a California community and chasing the American Dream for him, his wife and kids but who ends up sentenced to life in imprisonment for the double killing of two gang members – a cold-blooded crime he didn’t commit.

Director Reyes was wearing two hats when he first met the youth, Sansón Noe Andrade. He was a court appointed translator for Spanish-speaking defendants. That job at the time supported his filmmaking as well as provided extra money for him to put food on the table for him, his wife and their kids.

In court, Sansón was being prosecuted for the two murders committed by his brother-in-law who belonged to a Mexican gang though evidence was presented that wrongly identified Sansón as a gang member which he wasn’t. Sansón, born in Tecoman, Mexico, had given his brother-in-law a lift in his van the day of the killing, not knowing that his brother-in-law was planning to shoot and kill members of a rival gang. Sansón at the time was driving in his van to pick up items for his young son’s birthday party.

The brother-in-law accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to serve a few years, while Sansón, who turned down a plea deal, was sentenced away for the rest of his life. Heartbreaking, am I not right? Sansón had no idea when his brother-in-law was asking for a ride that there was a sinister plan behind it.

Reyes says in the beginning of his movie that Sansón’s life story was an important documentary project for the director because he felt that he never got to really know Sansón nor his story as well as he liked even though the two spent so much time together during the three weeks when they were literally sitting side by side. Reyes also believed that Sansón got a bum deal.

After the sentencing, Reyes and Sansón exchanged letters over the years about the making of the documentary about his life. Reyes casted Sansón’s family members for roles for key scenes in his life, starting with his childhood. Sansón’s uncle played his father; Sansón’s sister played his mother; Sansón’s nephew played him as a young boy and there was another young man whom Reyes met while visiting Mexico and meeting Sanson’s wife. Reyes did the casting that way because because the prison authorities would not allow him to interview Sansón directly.

Director Rodrigo Reyes. Picture by Jennifer Durán

Sansón wasn’t a killer. He didn’t pull the trigger. Nevertheless, he was found guilty on four counts. SANSÓN AND ME sadden me about the unfairness of a criminal and penal justice system that resulted in a gang member, who planned and executed the killings, got significantly less time than the man – his brother in law, of all people – who was simply giving him a lift.

Sansón’s childhood in Tecoman, Mexico, was plagued with loss, neglect, hopelessness. He was a child longing for a family, stability and love. His life did improve when his aunt and uncle took in his sister and him and moved them to California. Things started to look up though they weren’t perfect but better than what life was like before – until that fateful day which forever changed his life.

Something Sansón said stood out to me. He said that the prison where he was serving his life sentence was the best “house” he ever had. He also wrote in his letters that people who migrate to the States for a better life don’t make good money, that years and years of toil and trouble can be experienced and that they can feel like they don’t belong and that they miss the people whom they left behind. This is a heartbreaking reality for many people like Sansón even if they aren’t imprisoned for life.

I believe this film is a gem that has to be seen.


Link to other articles in this journalism project.


Shannon McGee can be reached at