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, Life Itself) 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.