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America to Me


Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Life Itself) examines racial, economic and class issues in contemporary American education in this multipart unscripted documentary series. Poignant and funny, epic and intimate, America to Me spends an academic year at Chicagoland’s elite Oak Park and River Forest High School, allowing its students, families, faculty and administration to tell stories of the pressures and challenges teens face in their own words.

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Running Time: 10 one-hour episodes min.
Subject(s): Children, Current Affairs, Education, Family, Gender, Politics, Society, Youth
Language(s): English
Subtitles: English
Producer(s): John Condne, Risé Sanders-Weir
Editor(s): Leslie Simmer, David E. Simpson, Steve James
Production Company: Kartemquin Films


  • Variety
    "Most documentaries aim to stun audiences by building up to revelations that will explode preconceptions wide open. Often, they focus on a single catastrophic or otherwise pivotal event — a war, a movement, a victory — in order to reveal its ripple effects. But “America to Me” succeeds by taking a quieter, slyly bruising approach in order to match the timbre of its fraught subject material, portraying how intersections of race, class and privilege become gruelling everyday realities. It’s a slower burn, but it proves no less searing...Showing an isolated racist comment is one thing; revealing how deeply racism is embedded in our culture, even in places that say they recognise it, is another, much harder task that “America to Me” tackles with patience, compassion and most crucially, a willingness to let its subjects speak for themselves."
    Caroline Framke
  • The Hollywood Reporter
    "In Steve James' docuseries America to Me...there aren't, exactly, villains. There's the principal and superintendent, who are portrayed as being at times apathetic and dismissive to attempts by teachers and parents to address, with urgency, the persistent achievement gap between black and white students at the school. There are students and parents at rival high schools, whose level of racial sensitivity ranges from lacking to nonexistent, but they only appear sporadically."
    Pete Keeley
  • The Atlantic
    "The series takes the viewer on an insightful, engaging, and maddening trip back to school, which is enabled by the extraordinary access James and his segment directors were given to classrooms, board meetings, and people’s homes. Those three directors are the African American filmmaker Kevin Shaw, the white filmmaker Rebecca Parrish, and the Asian American documentarian Bing Liu, whose 2018 movie about skateboarding, Minding the Gap, is a masterpiece on its own terms. What makes America to Me so distinctive is that the school it features, Oak Park and River Forest High School, should be a success story. It’s in the liberal village of Oak Park, Illinois, where (as James’s narration reveals) community leaders in the 1950s and ’60s resisted white flight and redlining to keep the area integrated. The white residents who left were mostly older and conservative, James explains, while the white people who moved in were younger and liberal, hopeful that they could play a part in “an American experiment in true diversity.” So if this school—with its diverse student body and 94 percent graduation rate—isn’t getting things right, the show seems to ask, which school is?"
    Sophie Gilbert
  • NY Times
    "...ample evidence that in fact, what happened keeps happening — even if it happens in more subtle ways, with coded language and among people who talk the talk of inclusion. It’s an invaluable look at where inequity begins, as well as the difficulty of getting to the place where it ends."
    James Poniewozik
    "Steve James’ “America to Me” is a momentous achievement, both a statement on where we are right now in terms of race and how we need to work together to get somewhere better...James and his team find a way to place their empathetic, individual stories against a larger backdrop of social issues across the country. James is one of our most humanist filmmakers—someone who not only knows how to draw out the most interesting aspects of his subjects’ lives but seems to honestly care about who they are and where they’re going. He’s a cinematic listener, someone who gets comfortable enough with his subjects that he allows their best selves to come out on-screen, and allows us the optimism to think that there are people like the kids and teachers in “America to Me” all around this country—people just trying to get through the day, have their voices heard, and maybe make a difference."
    4/4 Stars
    Brian Tallerico

Festival Participation

  • Sundance Film Festival - 2018
  • Cinema Eye Honors Awards, US - 2019
    Cinema Eye Honors Award Winner
    Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Series for Broadcast: Steve James
  • Critics' Choice Documentary Awards - 2018
    Critics' Choice Documentary Award Nominee
    Best Limited Documentary Series
  • Television Critics Association Awards - 2019
    TCA Award Nominee
    Outstanding Achievement in News and Information

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