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New Film, “American Promise,” Follows One Young Boy Through 13 Years Of School

The Brewster family is one of the subjects behind the new film, "American Promise."

In at least one way, Joe Brewster sounds like most fathers.

“I want my son to have the best education possible,” he says in the opening scene of this clip from “American Promise,” a short film that he and his wife Michelle Stephenson created to detail their son’s experiences at an elite Manhattan prep school.

Idris Brewster, a 5-year-old African-American boy from Brooklyn, would be one of few minority students at the Dalton School, where 2013 tuition is more than $40,000 per year. His parents switched on the camera once he was admitted. The impulse grew into an attempt to capture his entire K-12 educational career on film.

“We were embarking on this journey and having the camera around became a tool to process our journey,” Stephenson says.

In this extended trailer, viewers see that journey through Idris’ eyes: a school suspension he experiences as unfair, the pressure his parents apply that he outperform his peers, a cab that would pick him up, but not his friends.

Both parents are accomplished—Brewster attended Harvard and trained as a psychiatrist before becoming a filmmaker; Stephenson, daughter of immigrants, graduated from Columbia Law School. They make it clear that they have high expectations for their son and want him to be able to navigate being a black man in America.

“American Promise” won the Special Jury award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and will air on PBS in 2014. For more on “American Promise,” visit

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