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A film by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson

Runtime: 135 minutes (includes 80, 45, and 30 minute versions)

Closed captioning included

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If you would like to view and purchase EDUCATIONAL STREAMING, please click the button below:

About this film

A documentary 14 years in the making, American Promise provides a rare look into the lives of two middle class Black families as they navigate the ups and downs of parents and educating their sons. 

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.  





"This MASSIVE UNDERTAKING, culled from more than 800 hours of footage, illuminates the mistakes, the challenges and the personal growth of not only the two boys, but of the parents as well." - Hollywood Reporter


"★★★★ American Promise plays a vital role in shifting the perceptions our society holds about our young black boys, allowing us to have a new dialogue about the ACHIEVEMENT GAP and how we all have a collective responsibility to identify and remove unintentional hurdles so that every child regardless of their race or gender can reach their full potential and brighten our country's future." - Open Society Institute


" engrossing portrait of modern parenting." - Washington Post


"An extraordinary documentary about race, family and education that's at once epic and intimate." -


"...intimate look at how particular families deal with the great parental challenges of shepherding their children through the all-important educational experience." - LA Times


Educational Edition Includes

- Unlimited but site-specific public performance rights (*included with Institutional & Public Viewing Edition only) necessary for any showing outside of a private residence

- 2 DVD Box Set

- Feature Film (135 minutes)

- 80 minute version

- 45 minute version that includes trailer and clips designed for classroom discussion

- Youth Video Module (30 minutes)

- Educator's Discussion Guide

- Youth Discussion Guide

*IMPORTANT NOTE: The K-12 Edition is for use in a small K-12 classroom setting ONLY. If you are planning a large assembly, faculty training, parent screening, or community showing at a K-12 school, then a public viewing license is needed and therefore the $495 Public Viewing Edition must be purchased. This version will still include all of the K-12 materials. 

* Are you interested in having a representative from the film attend your event, either in person or via Skype? If so, please contact Kristin Cooney directly at 415.332.6471 x 204 or [email protected] Please note there are honorarium fees involved.


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