Spanning 12 years in the lives of two families, American Promise provides a rare look into black middle class life while exploring the common hopes and hurdles of parents navigating their children's educational journey. The film begins in 1999, when filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson turned their cameras on their son Idris and his best friend Seun as they entered kindergarten at the Dalton School, one of the country's most prestigious private schools. Together, the two families learn that opportunity is just the first step toward academic success. Over the years, the boys struggle with stereotypes, identity and perception, both inside and outside the classroom. They ultimately take divergent paths on the road to graduation—one remains at Dalton while the other attends the Benjamin Banneker Academy, a predominantly black public school with an Afro-centric curriculum. Meanwhile, the parents wrestle with the same doubts and angst over their sons' futures, as they juggle their high expectations with the cultural and social obstacles that their sons face. American Promise is not just a coming-of-age tale about black male achievement; it is a universal story about parental hopes and expectations. Through the intimate experiences of these two families, the documentary reveals complicated truths about parenting, while calling into question commonly held assumptions about educational access in the 21st century. Ultimately, the film reveals that not all children and families get the same chance to succeed—asking the question of each of us: what is the American Promise?
Director Joe Brewster, Michele Stephenson