Film: Waiting for Superman


Cast includes: Geoffrey Canada, Michelle Rhee, Bill Strickland, Randi Weingarten
Director/Writer: Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth)
Genre: Documentary (2010)

In brief:“The saddest day of my life was when my mother told me that superman didn’t exist,” says Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone. “That’s when I knew that no one was coming with enough power to save us.” In 1999, filmmaker Davis Guggenheim made a documentary about teachers. Ten years later, when it came time to make some choices on schools for his own children, he realized that the believing in the public school system was a leap of faith he wasn’t prepared to take.

Over the course of the film, we meet a handful of students in different parts of the country whose schools are failing them for various reasons. We look at the “failure factories” they’ll have to attend unless they’re lucky enough to win a lottery for a charter school. One adorable young girl, who wants to become a veterinarian, will have to attend a high school where only 3% of the students will graduate with the qualifications to attend a 4-year college.

The film takes us back to the 1970s and examines some of the reasons schools are failing and the reasons we should care. Every president since that time has vowed to fix our failing schools. But all that’s been accomplished is to add more barriers to giving children a good education. There is no easy answer. Over the course of the movie we get statistics that examine the problem from many different perspectives. And the numbers are jaw dropping… not just in schools serving poorer communities. Ultimately the whole system has evolved to serve the adults in the system, rather than the children.

There are bright spots, however. Some (not all) charter schools have had amazing success over the last decade. The good ones have been able to graduate college-ready students in record numbers. But charter schools aren’t the total answer. There are way more applicants than available placements, so they’ve been forced to go to a lottery system. They do, however, provide proof that it’s possible to improve education if we change the system. As President Bush famously said, “Childrens do learn.”

It’s hard to say enough good things about this movie. While it’s very informative, it’s also very compelling and engaging. The narrative is well developed. The families and kids we meet will tug at your heartstrings. And while the film gives us a lot of statistics, they are presented in very interesting and compelling ways. This is a topic everyone should care about and a film everyone should see.


popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

A well-told story about an American tragedy… and the few glimmers of hope on the horizon

Popcorn Profile

Rated: PG
Primary Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Appeal: Any audience  
Distribution: Mainstream wide release   
Mood:  Somber  
Tempo: Zips right along  
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism  
Character Development: Not that kind of film  
Language: True to life   
Social Significance: Informative  & thought provoking  


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