Critic Reviews



Based on 15 critic reviews provided by
American Promise shows the emotional toll that each boy endures, not only from the image that their privileged peers have of minority males but, accordingly, their own lack of confidence.
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.
The documentary is often fascinating, even as it eschews any kind of traditional narrative.
American Promise succeeds in touching on a wealth of subjects without overreaching.
Ultimately, American Promise seems split between a personal perspective and a broader one. It’s a bold experiment that’s also a textbook case of filmmakers being too close to their material.
Slant Magazine
The documentary's lack of a cohesive thesis may frustrate at times, but its power lies in its exposition of the mundane.
It’s a baggy movie, with some things (such as whether Idris taking Ritalin in high school improved his performance) unexplained, and it may appeal most to those raising kids themselves.
The Dissolve
American Promise, shot over a period of 13 years, is by no means a wasted effort. At the same time, though, it’s hard not to wonder whether directors Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson (who are married) wound up with a film that even remotely resembles whatever vague idea they had in mind back in 1999.
While Stephenson and Brewster’s big-picture attempt to tackle a sociopolitical issue from the most personal of perspectives lacks the state-of-the-nation impact of that landmark doc, it doesn’t mean you won’t feel the pleasure of these kids’ triumphs, the pain of their tragedies or the pressures of ambition, affecting parents as much as students.
Race is raised as a possible reason for Idris’s and Seun’s problems, and then other potential determinants (a learning disorder, illness) are introduced. But the filmmakers don’t engage with these life events and issues: They just line them up as if their significance were transparent.

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