Films have a power to create real discussion and change in the world, documentaries especially. Though many dramatic narratives can also lead to change, the documentation of true life holds special power. Just this past year we saw the treatment of whales at Sea World, a subject not many had previously thought of, thrust into our consciousness by the popularity of a documentary, Black Fish.
American Promise has the potential to do exactly the same about an inarguably more pressing issue. The documentary follows the child of the directors, Idris, and his best friend, Seun, both African American, over the course of 13 years as they navigate elementary and high school. The film aims to raise and answer questions behind the long documented “achievement gap” between African American students and their Caucasian classmates.
A recent report by the Campaign for College Opportunity, a California non-profit with goals to increase college availability for all, shows that despite gains by all groups in achieving bachelor’s degrees in the last 15 years, African Americans have only closed the previously 18% gap between them and their white peers to a 17% gap. This highlights the hard truth that throwing money at problems isn’t the only way to fix them, and can sometimes obfuscate real solutions.
Brewster and Stephenson’s choice to turn the camera on their own child and his friend and look for real insights is a brave one, and one that no doubt will lead to a fascinating film. Audiences seem to agree, as the film won the special jury prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
American Promise will screen a shortened 30-minute version on Monday, April 14 at 4 p.m. at Corvallis High School, followed by discussion. A full 80-minute version of the film will be shown on Tuesday, April 15 at Milam Auditorium at OSU, followed by a discussion hosted by director Michele Stephenson. Both screenings are free to the public.