American Promise

This remarkable documentary from filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson chronicles a dozen-plus years in the life of their son, Idris, and his childhood friend, Seun, two black kids from Brooklyn who attend an elite and historically very white prep school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. That opportunity sets up a great array of ongoing challenges, not least the unusual pressure of living up to expectations from parents who would record, for public display, your every effort to live up to their expectations. And society’s. There’s never not a lot at stake for Idris and Seun, bright and likable kids from the get-go who remain ever gracious about having been pressed into service as representatives of a grand statement on race, class, and parenting in today’s urban America. And, to their credit, the parents don’t bother with the vanity of presenting themselves only in the most flattering light. The scope of their effort is epic, but the scale is intimate; American Promise doesn’t presume to solve persistent race-related problems within our education system, opting instead invitingly to explore them. Its scrutiny of Idris and Seun’s formative years runs nearly two-and-a-half hours long, and not for a moment do we ever get sick of hanging out with these guys and seeing how they’re doing. It feels like a privilege to witness and reflect on their achievements, setbacks, and even, ultimately, just the universal stuff of growing up.