American Promise follows two African-American boys from first grade through high school.
Overall rating: 3 out of 4
My mind was staggered at the though that parents/filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michéle Stephenson decided to follow their son and his friend from the day they entered Dalton, one of the most prestigious schools in the country.
There’s no way a film of an acceptable length could possibly include every milestone, drama, etc., that happens in a child’s life throughout the whole of grade school and high school, but this film did a great job of bringing us into the two families. The film catalog talked specifically about the fact that one of the boys leaves Dalton and goes to another school, and the filmmakers paced the stories so well that the audience didn’t know until the decision was made who was leaving. Given that the Joe and Michéle were filming their own lives and their own parenting, it was refreshing to see how unsparing they were of themselves and their own foibles.
I also appreciated the focus on race. There was a lot of blunt talk in the film about how the two boys (and their families as well) had a hard time dealing with race. They sometimes felt that they and their children were being dealt with differently because of race, on the other hand they also said straight out that they felt more comfortable around people of their own race. It really highlighted for me some of the reasons why it’s so hard to talk about race in America – if white people start the discussion they can be seen as patronizing, if black people start it they can be seen as defensive. It’s easy to sit down and have a talk with a single person, but harder to have a talk with a large group, all of whom have very different experiences.
According to Michéle, the film will be appearing on PBS later on this year, and I hope that it receives a wide audience. It deserves one.