Two Black Families, Navigating Education in America

I had the opportunity to speak with filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson about their new documentary American Promise. Thirteen years in the making, the film follows their son and his friend's education at the elite Dalton School in New York City. It provides a rare look into the lives of two middle-class black families as they navigate the ups and down of parenting and educating their sons.

Why did you decide to make this film?

Using the work of Michael Apted (Up Series) as our inspiration, American Promise started off as an experiment in longitudinal documentary storytelling that would explore and celebrate diversity in education.

The American Promise outreach campaign uses the power of storytelling and film to engage parents, educators, and students to become advocates for the academic achievement of black boys. Why did you decide to focus on black male achievement as a core issue for the campaign? 

This seemed like a natural organic outgrowth of the story we ultimately ended up telling about our two families and our sons' educational journeys. It's a unique and very personal perspective on a common set of experiences our young black men face.

What are your hopes for the campaign?

We hope that the film's campaign will help the conversation on deconstructing stereotypes and assumptions about our young men. We are honored to be joining this year's other film releases such as Fruitvale Station and Central Park Five, which are tackling the role implicit bias plays in our young men’s everyday lives.

Being able to be part of a larger trend of work that is moving the pendulum forward on the role unconscious racism plays in the black male achievement gap is a true honor.

Who is the audience for your campaign, and why?

Our core audiences are parents and caregivers of black boys, educators, and young black men. We believe that targeting these stakeholders is key to creating greater positive change.

You recently premiered American Promise at the prestigious New York Film Festival and are now being considered as a frontrunner for an Oscar. Can you share how you feel at this moment and how this may help elevate the film’s campaign?

It is an honor to be considered noteworthy, and we cherish any recognition of our craft, but we understand that the opportunity to promote a greater understanding of the needs of African-American boys is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We hope that this moment can help shed light and generate a national discussion on the particular issues our boys face.

Find out where American Promise is showing near you.

9 Comments

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This is a must see film for all.

why racism with black boys ?

Thx OSF for continuing to lift up and support Black Male Achievement

Racism with black boys bc black men are more likely to be incarcerated than to go to college.

Saw this movie today. It was an extremely powerful experience. I went to a predominately white high school and middle school and watching this riveting documentary was like reliving my own experience. Thanks Open Society for putting this movie on blast, would've never knew about it if it weren't for your marketing.

we have been stuck for last 40 years in this same paradigm im 47...our youth cannot and are not the "cause(s)" of our detriment but the effects of centuries of clandestine initiatives that undermine our right to self determine..also our adopting to -conceptions and idealism Foreign......

I would like to use audio/video in addressing the International court of justice in whom in am in current dialog as a modern day template of our plight in North America

Thank you Open Society for sharing this film. I will use it to continue the conversation of "high expectations" with educators, parents and scholars in Philadelphia County.

wow. That was so encouraging. Of course things are tough but when you are not afraid to ask the tough questions and be tough you go places.

Bravo Open Society Foundations Bravo!!!!!!

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