“America to Me,” the extraordinary ten-part docuseries that premiered in 2018 on Starz, is currently streaming for free courtesy of the network (you can start watching here). I consider it essential viewing during this era of the Black Lives Matter movement as it pushes for transformative and lasting change in our society. “The ground-breaking, non-fiction series examines racial, economic and class issues in contemporary American education,” said its co-editor David E. Simpson. “I’m as proud of it as anything I’ve ever worked on. It is dense, smart, complex, fun and engrossing.” In his four-star review, RogerEbert.com managing editor, Brian Tallerico, hailed the series as “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.”
It is one of the most epic triumphs yet from Gordon Quinn and Kartemquin Films, the Chicago-based company responsible for many of the best American documentaries over the past half-century. Steve James, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind “Life Itself,” the poignant film about my late husband Roger Ebert, and the director of the classic film, “Hoop Dreams,” set this series at Oak Park and River Forest High School, a diverse and progressive institution where racial inequity has nevertheless persisted throughout the generations. Segment directors/cinematographers Rebecca Parrish (“Radical Grace”), Bing Liu (“Minding the Gap”) and Kevin Shaw (“The Street Stops Here”) assisted James in providing a richly textured portrait of various teenagers representing the 3,400 students enrolled at the school during its Fall 2015-Spring 2016 semester.
Simpson joined his fellow editors Leslie Simmer and Alanna Schmelter in discussing with our assistant editor, Matt Fagerholm, how weaving together the parallel narratives of the students’ lives in the cutting room proved to be a life-changing experience (you can read their conversation here).
In speaking with our critic Allison Shoemaker, director Steve James said, “It was really important to us to make the kids lives as full as we captured them, and not just use them, to let them becomes symbols or props. Not in a dismissive way, but we didn’t want to let them become the themes of race and education. Grant, starting in episode four, has a crush on a girl in his badminton class and that story, that’s really pretty sweet. There are big issues, but also love, and nervousness, and ‘How do I tell her I want to go out with her?’ That’s important, too.” Click here to read the full interview.
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Click here to stream “America to Me” on Starz, which is currently available to view for free.