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.
“Because the stories are so specific, and because they play out over such a long period of time, it is hard not to be fascinated by this intimate look at how particular families deal with the great parental challenge of shepherding their children through the all-important educational experience.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times