In January, episodes of the Steve James docuseries “America to Me” opened Sundance’s Indie Episodic section and represented the new program’s first major sale ($5 million). Now Starz has released a trailer for the 10-part look inside an affluent-yet-segregated Chicago public school.
James — whose features have earned him Oscar nominations in the documentary (“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail”) and editing (“Hoop Dreams”) categories — spent a year embedded inside Oak Park and River Forest High School, a scenic institution with benevolent teachers, every amenity imaginable, and one disquieting drawback. White students’ test scores are climbing while black students’ have stagnated. While black staff members are desperate to address the chasm, the majority of the school’s board is white and unconcerned. Thus a rift emerges among the same academic leaders trying to reconcile that their charges refuse to commingle in the cafeteria, let alone on the cheerleading team.
Following its world premiere in Park City, “America to Me” screened at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and AFI Docs. Windy City-based Kartemquin Films, James’ longtime professional home, produced the series with Participant Media (making its unscripted TV debut). The latter also backed 2019 Academy Award hopeful “RBG,” Magnolia Pictures’ highest-grossing film ever (almost $11 million).
IndieWire’s TV Critic Ben Travers gave the project an A, explaining that James’ “empathetic portraits of teenage students and their earnest educators creates an affecting, insightful, and vital piece of cultural commentary.” Each episode will correspond with an event in a different U.S. city, part of a social impact campaign that also includes a spoken-word poetry contest, all meant to encourage once-taboo discussions about race.
“America to Me” premieres on Starz August 26 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Watch the trailer below.