American Promise (2013)
The American Promise journey began in 1999, when filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson enrolled their son Idris in the Dalton School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan after the private institution boldly strengthened its commitment to cultivating a diverse student body. Michèle and Joe decided to turn the camera on themselves to film the experiences of 5-year-old Idris and his best friend and classmate Seun. The documentary captures the stories of Idris, Seun, and their families from the first day of kindergarten all the way to their 2012 high school graduation. Over the 12 years, we see the boys and their families struggle with stereotypes and identity, navigate learning differences that later become diagnoses, and ultimately take increasingly divergent paths on their road to graduation. We also see a rare and vivid portrait of middle-class African-American families as the parents wrestle with doubts and angst over their sons' educational journey and both families grapple with how best to support their sons and interact with teachers and administrators. All of this is set against the backdrop of a persistent educational achievement gap that dramatically affects African-American boys at all socioeconomic levels across the country. (c) Impact … More
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Critic Reviews for American Promise
Doesn't hold your hand as it reaches what it's conveying. It's a difficult doc that plays easy.
f Idris is different because he's African American, he stands out even more because he has a camera crew following him to class.
Not only provides illuminating insights into racial and cultural issues, but explores family dynamics common to all.
Says a lot about race, color, class, competition, and plain human nature in success-driven contemporary urban America.
By the end you can't help but wonder whether it was a good idea to keep the youngsters under camera scrutiny for more than 12 years.
Because Brewster and Stephenson have had the great courage to expose their own mistakes and excesses along the way, the film is revelatory as an embedded report from the front lines of parenting.
The fact that the pair pulls off the nearly 21 / 2-hour run time without making the audience tire of the subjects is a feat itself.
I'm glad I saw this movie because it allowed me to spend time with two engaging boys whose young lives are worth chronicling. But those lives can't bear the symbolic weight the filmmakers place on them. Nor should they have to.
A remarkable documentary, though only partially for the reason its creators intended.
Raising and educating middle-class African-American boys is seen first-hand, cinema verité style, over 9 years in fitful, occasionally insightful, and intimately revealing.
While they didn't set out to make a film about what newspaper columnists refer to as the "black male achievement gap," Brewster and Stephenson have done just that, and it's hard to imagine a more penetrating and powerful one.
It's a baggy movie, with some things (such as whether Idris taking Ritalin in high school improved his performance) unexplained, and it may appeal most to those raising kids themselves.
By the time Idris and Seun are preadolescents, they're struggling, and so are the filmmakers.
Ultimately, American Promise seems split between a personal perspective and a broader one. It's a bold experiment that's also a textbook case of filmmakers being too close to their material.
An intimate look at what it's like to be young, black and male in a largely white private school.
A moving document of what it means to be a minority in an exclusive, high-performing school.
While American Promise often feels frustratingly unfocused and random,...it compensates to some degree with equally random details about growing up in urban America.
While Stephenson and Brewster's big-picture attempt to tackle a sociopolitical issue from the most personal of perspectives lacks the state-of-the-nation impact of [Hoop Dreams], it doesn't mean you won't feel the pleasure of these kids' triumphs.
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