A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
Because of the type of documentary it is, America to Me doesn't take a stance on its subjects' behavior, positive or negative. However, there's an incredible amount of bravery in what these students and adults are doing: being observed and confronting complex topics such as racism.
Positive Role Models
Most, if not all, of the faculty members and parents are flawed, but there is a sense that each of them is deeply concerned with helping their children or students and understanding how best to do so.
Violence & Scariness
There's no violence depicted, but it is discussed.
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Profanity comes mostly from the students, only occasionally from teachers (the football coach, for example). Racial epithets and other slurs are frequently discussed. "F--k," "bitch," "f-g," the "N" word, etc.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that America to Me is a documentary series that deals frankly with issues of race. Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and his assistants follow a handful of students and faculty members at a progressive high school in suburban Chicago to see what role race plays in their education and everyday lives. Though the show frequently discusses ideas about institutional racism and education, it also shows regular teen life events as simple and compelling as high school dances, football games, and poetry slams. It deals with complex issues but does so in a very accessible way, making its impact through observation rather than argument.
Is It Any Good?
Many documentaries feel -- and, in fact, are -- scripted, as directors have an idea of what they want the film or show's story to be and then find and shoot footage to fit their predetermined narrative. America to Me, on the other hand, feels more like a pure documentary -- like Steve James set out to simply observe a year in the life of Oak Park High, without knowing what stories might come or if there would be any answers to the complex questions about race and institutional racism he intended to raise. The result is a deceptively simple mosaic of life in Oak Park, which slowly blossoms into something incredibly poignant. Embedded within the relatively mundane events of the school year are frequent revelatory moments: a parent describing getting expelled for missing a day to have surgery, for example, or watching the mostly black cheerleading squad practice their routines before learning that they're only allowed to perform in front of a section of the bleachers where the other black students hang out. In this way, being a simple observer allows James to illuminate institutional and everyday racism in a way that a script never could.
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