American Promise Screen 9 articles

American Promise


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  • While American Promise often feels frustratingly unfocused and random, however, it compensates to some degree with equally random details about growing up in urban America.

  • 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 end, the loving, fretful parents seem less mysterious than their sons.

  • Hoop Dreams would have been markedly different if the directors had been the parents or close friends of their subjects, and American Promise is marred by a certain coyness in its presentation. At one point, a sudden death occurs, and Brewster and Stephenson avoid revealing the cause, presumably out of privacy concerns. But such omissions and other instances of suspicious perspective... only call attention to Stephenson and Brewster’s conflicting motives as filmmakers and guardians.

  • What follows is an intellectually murky look at two children that hovers around race, class and gender and consistently fails to take the child’s point of view as each faces a rigorous academic regime, demanding parents, disorders and worse. By the time Idris and Seun are preadolescents, they’re struggling, and so are the filmmakers.

  • ...An intimate and poignant documentary by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson that tracks two boys for 13 years, from the ages of five to 18... American Promise's lack of a cohesive thesis may frustrate at times, but the film's power lies in its exposition of the mundane.

  • 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 that landmark doc, it doesn’t mean you won’t feel the pleasure of these kids’ triumphs, the pain of their tragedies or the pressures of ambition, affecting parents as much as students.

  • The boys, Seun and Idris, are never viewed as spectacles or oddities because they are the minority in a majority-white school system; instead the white majority is turned into the exhibition to be watched. The film follows the evolution of the two young boys into adults without extended focus on any specific periods of their lives, allowing for a range of problems associated with childhood and teenage years be explored.

  • Spanning 13 years, the resulting film offers a coming-of-age story rivaled perhaps only by Michael Apted’s Upseries in scope. American Promise is compelling both for its intimate focus on the lives of these middle-class families and in what it has to say about the struggle for identity of even the most talented African-American boys in a society that still often fears and dismisses them.

  • An extraordinary documentary about race, family and education that's at once epic and intimate... 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.

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