180 Days: A Year Inside An American High School
An important film on the nation’s educational crisis premieres on PBS this month. The documentary, 180 Days: A Year Inside An American High School, takes an unprecedented look at a learning institution at the epicenter of the nation’s school reform movement and the lives that hang in the balance. The four-hour film airs from 9 pmto11pm ET on Monday, March 25, and Tuesday, March 26, on PBS.
Washington, D.C., became the school reform movement’s ground zero in 2007 when Michelle Rhee became schools chancellor. Test scores rose and fell and now the nation’s capital tops the list of major U.S. cities for its glaring achievement gap: white students best black students by a margin of as much as four to one. The United States ranks near the bottom of all indexes for education among industrialized nations, and most African-American children now attend schools in which graduation is not the norm.
School reform has brought numerous changes and has emphasized standardized testing, partially promoted by the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative, in which school funding and personnel decisions are based largely on the results of high-stakes standardized tests. Tests, however, don’t take into account the troubled population of the school at the center of the documentary, Washington Metropolitan High School—or DC Met, as it is called—a school for children at risk of dropping out. It doesn’t measure the effect that a parent dying or a baby coming or a displacement by Hurricane Katrina or drug-addicted parents or the foster care system have on a student’s ability to succeed—or even to show up for school. And it doesn’t measure the desperate efforts of the school faculty working to reach these children.
The film follows five students—Raven Coston, 17; Raven Quattlebaum, 18; Rufus McDowney, 16; Tiara Parker, 18; and Delaunte Bennett, 18—facing these and other crises. It captures the dramatic battle of Principal Tanishia Williams Minor and the faculty at DC Met, where only 7 percent of students are deemed “proficient” in math and only 19 percent in reading, as they race to reform truants, raise test scores and save their school, jobs—and the lives of their children. 180 Days shows the real faces of those affected by the policies and legislation being implemented nationally.
“We have policy on education and we have reality,” said Jacquie Jones, executive producer of the film, “and 180 Days provides a snapshot into the reality of the on-the-ground troops in the fight to claim the lives and destinies of our children, many of whom are facing seemingly insurmountable challenges in their quest for an education.”
180 Days is produced by the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC), which brings programming about the Black experience to public television. The program is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, a public media initiative supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), that helps communities nationwide understand and implement solutions to address the high school dropout crisis.
After Earth (June 7)
After Earth (originally known as 1000 A.E.) is an upcoming science-fiction thriller film co-written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, starring real-life father and son Will and Jaden Smith as Cypher and Kitai Raige. It will be distributed by Columbia Pictures and available on IMAX.
In the near future, humanity was forced to abandon the planet forever after cataclysmic events, and they reestablished mankind on the planet Nova Prime, light years away from Earth, and managed to rebuild society. Earth was left in its prime state, and continued to flourish on its own. A Ranger Corps was founded.
One thousand years later, the Ranger Corps is led by General Cypher Raige (Will Smith). His teenage son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), is one of the training recruits, but his knack for mischief frustrates Cypher, who eventually does not promote him. Seeing this as a longing for his father’s love, Cypher’s wife (Sophie Okonedo) tells Cypher to do some bonding with Kitai.
Taking her advice, Cypher takes Kitai on a mission trip to Earth. The ship comes into an asteroid field and crashes on Earth, killing everyone except Cypher and Kitai. With Cypher critically injured, Kitai must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help so they can return to Nova Prime, facing uncharted terrain, evolved animal species that now rule the planet, and an unstoppable alien creature that escaped during the crash. The father and son must learn to work together and learn to trust one another if they want any chance of escaping Earth and returning home.
White House Down (June 28)
Like many Blacks, you’re probably still upset after watching Django Unchained, a Quentin Tarantino film that stars Jamie Foxx as an escaped slave on a search for vengeance. If nothing else the film showed that Foxx is clearly an actor with a ton of range, and the controversial lead role in Django gave him a chance to display that. It didn’t hurt either to take on a role that’s completely and totally different for his next effort.
Roland Emmerich’s White House Down is the total opposite of the genre-bending, hyper-intelligent work Quentin Tarantino does, but Foxx was good in that one too. Foxx will next star as the President in the new Roland Emmerich film, which stars Channing Tatum as a Secret Service agent who single-handedly has to protect the President after an attack on the White House. Yes, not only is this essentially Die Hard at the White House, but a more excellent cast that White House Down gets on board.