Parents' Guide to

America to Me

By Martin Brown, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Thoughtful documentary on race and other complex issues.

TV Starz Reality TV 2018
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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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