American Promise (★★★)



American Promise‘ is a documentary about two kids named Seun and Idris who grow up in Brooklyn. Edited by the Emmy-award winning Mary Manhardt with cinematography by Errol Webber, the Rada Film Group chose to work with the documentary creators to investigate deeper into the multicultural worlds in society today.

From the beginning, the two are adorable and best friends. Both start out attending The Dalton School, the only two Black kids in a predominantly White school. Right off the bat, Idris is much more of a thinker than Seun, who is much more of an active kid. Watching the emotional and physical growth of the boys, always on the outside as opposed to with the rest of the class. Suddenly, the rift begins when Idris is labelled as a ‘problem’ at the school and punished despite his claim of innocence, meanwhile Seun is starts struggling in his classes while being talked down to. Both boys, also, are being treated differently, which complicates their situation even more, changing their perceptions and warping their personalities.

Another interesting point of view is the lives of the parents of Seun and Idris. As their lives become more difficult, so they meet with the parents of the other Black students at Dalton and find out that they are all going through similar things. But their agitation is being pushed onto their children, which stresses the kids out even more. At age 13, the boys start getting interested in girls, being invited to parties, which creates another cocktail of emotional and physical confusions for the boys. Where Idris is thinking about girls, Seun is considering leaving the school. And on March Day, the emotions run high when everyone knows Seun is leaving for a public school. And thus, the separation begins.

After being separated, Seun’s life gets better as the pressure is removed and he is with people who see his skin color but sees inside of him. At that point, Idris pushes himself despite becoming more and more miserable. When Idris and Seun sit together for an interview, there is distance that isn’t so easily covered by their six-year-old giddiness. Idris is willingly tested and positively diagnosed for A.D.H.D., something his parents are very unhappy about. And after he starts on medication, his in-class and on the court performance improves greatly.

When college rolls around, both are very different yet similar paths. Idris is curious and finds Stanford the right choice for him. Seun is practical and wants to attend an art school for graphic designing. Where Seun has had to grow up, Idris still relies on his parents, and is rejected from all of his universities except for one. And the documentary ends with Idris moving in to his new dorm room.


This documentary is shot very much like reality-TV style, with behind the scenes interviews, and captures the key moments of each of the boys’ lives. There is a haunted yet beautiful way the music ties the story together, covering the most aggravating and emotional points while keeping the film flowing. Both boys manage to grow up and become young men, but with obvious differences. The root message of the documentary can be seen as the consequences and hardships of the American dream that is being reached for. And all of the footage back it up.

Emotionally tiring and frustrating to watch at times, this feature documentary can be seen as a reflection of the changing times and the different parenting styles and each of their results. Possible 2014 Oscar nominations include best sound editing, editing, and best documentary. For a documentary created by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, parents of Idris, ‘American Promise’ was a 2013 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection. It is well worth the watch and very revealing.