Michele Stephenson
American Promise

MICHÉLE STEPHENSON received support for American Promise, a documentary twelve years in the making that chronicles the school experiences of two African American boys and their families, offering an unprecedented look at the complexities of race, parenting, privilege, and education at the dawn of the 21st century. Stephenson and her husband Joe Brewster turned the camera on themselves and began filming the experiences of their five year-old son Idris and his best friend Seun, as they started kindergarten in 1999. The boys enrolled at the prestigious Dalton School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, just as the private institution boldly strengthened its commitment to cultivating a diverse student body. Over the 12 years of this film, we see the boys and their families navigate learning differences that later become diagnoses, struggle with stereotypes and identity, 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 filmmaker parents wrestle with doubt and angst over their sons educational journey. Both sets of parents 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. The film puts a face to the unique social and emotional needs of these boys and poignantly calls into question commonly held assumptions about access, resources, and what really influences academic performance.

About this grant

Film and Video
Grant Program
New York City Film and Video
New York City


Guidelines and more information about the new Artist Fellowship program are now available. The application deadline is Tuesday, May 8, 2018 at 4 pm Central / 5 pm Eastern Time.

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