Chicago’s Oak Park and River Forest High School’s (OPRF) student population encompasses a racial, economic and cultural mix that reflects the nation as a whole. Located in a mostly affluent, progressive suburb, the school attracts families of all races and means, many of whom make great sacrifices to secure their children a place there. But even in this diverse and liberal community, ensuring an educational experience that equally benefits all students poses challenges for the school’s dedicated and well-meaning teachers, administrators and parents. In the multipart unscripted documentary series AMERICA TO ME, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interupters, Life Itself, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail) and his team follow a diverse selection of the school’s 3,400 students, including artists, athletes, scholars, underachievers and iconoclasts, to present an indelible account of their dreams, fears, triumphs and aspirations. Posing complex and controversial questions, the film wrestles with crucial issues, including the effects of race and privilege on education as seen through the eyes of young Americans on the precipice of adulthood. Candid and relatable portraits of 12 students who are just beginning to come into their own provide moving insights into the teenage search for personal identity in today’s world. Director Steve James joins us with his impressions on the state of secondary education, how best to facilitate better outcomes for students and the role racial stereotyping plays in achieving success.
100% on Rotten Tomatoes
“The 10-part documentary series from Steve James (Hoop Dreams) is profound and thoughtful, taking a detailed look at inequality in America through the lens of a storied high school in Chicago.” – Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic
“[America to Me] is an invaluable look at where inequity begins, as well as the difficulty of getting to the place where it ends.” – James Poniewozik
“Even in a series this expansive, you keep wishing you could spend more time with more people, but its scope allows James and his team to show both victories and defeats fade into the past, how fragile and yet how resilient its protagonists can be.” – Sam Adams, Slate
“[James] captures the specific moments that are hard to explain without being there – like a young black girl who feels uncomfortable with a white teacher’s constant attempts to relate to her – and the larger systemic issues that are harder to upend.” – Ben Travers, IndieWire