American Promise

For 12 years, Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson, married professionals in Brooklyn, used a video camera to track the educational progress of their son Idris and his friend Seun Summers as they advanced through the Dalton School, a private K-12 institution in Manhattan where they were among the only black students. The resulting documentary is framed as a sort of upper-class Hoop Dreams, measuring the limits of opportunity in America for young men of color, though in practice it more often functions as a self-serving advertisement for the couple’s intense, hectoring brand of parenthood. A key complaint is that the kids have to function in a white world to obtain an elite education (Summers transferred to a mostly black public school after eighth grade), which is valid but hardly compares with the problems faced by most American students of any race. On the other hand, most kids don’t have to deal with their parents turning their college admissions process into the climax of a movie.