Waiting for Balance: A Review of Waiting for Superman Directed by Davis Guggenheim
Paramount Vantage and Participant Media, 2010. Approximately 90 minutes. ________________________________________________________________________ Reviewed by Joseph Flynn, Northern Illinois University Introduction Waiting for Superman is the latest documentary by the Academy Award winning director Davis Guggenheim. Guggenheim also directed An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore documentary about climate change and global warming. What made An Inconvenient Truth such a masterwork was that it presented stark and incontrovertible information ...view middle of the document...
Canada, ever so eloquently, expressed a profound sadness about this stark dose of reality. As a child his tears were not about the realization that his favorite superhero was not real, but that there was no longer a single person or entity that could come save him and his community. As he states in the film, “… there was no one with enough power coming to save us.” To follow-up this recount, Guggenheim in voice-over introduces the purpose of this film and makes an obvious yet profound statement. “No matter who you are or what neighborhood you live in, each morning you make a leap of faith, believing in our schools.” He then announces that he must choose against his value of public education and send his young child to a private school. Guggenheim establishes a bleak image of American public education as being insufficient for most families. The film then cuts to “regular families” who are struggling to find the best educational opportunities for their children. Most of these parents live in struggling, low-income neighborhoods and Guggenheim shows us that their children are clearly intelligent and capable of learning. However, their children are attending poorly performing schools that will greatly diminish their
Critical Questions in Education Volume 2:1
chances of success the longer they attend. For example, there is the story of Maria who is trying to find the best option for her son Francisco. He attends the third largest overcrowded school in the Bronx. We meet Gloria, who took in her grandson Anthony after his father died from drug related causes. We also meet Nakia, whose makes great sacrifices to send her daughter Bianca to a private school in Harlem. Later in the film Bianca is unable to attend her graduation because Nakia cannot pay that month’s tuition. Most of the “characters” in the film convey truly heart-wrenching stories and these stories establish a sense of urgency and outrage that begs a key question: How can this happen in a country like the United States, the wealthiest nation on the planet? Canada comes back into focus to point out an important and humane idea, “Kids look at the world and make predictions... They know they are getting the short end of the stick and they don’t know why.” The text unfolds like a brilliantly written expose as it oscillates between explorations of the concerns and struggles of these families and explanations of the complicated institution of education. It must be remembered that Guggenheim has a key challenge all documentarians have: making a film that is both informative and entertaining. As such, the human-interest stories develop to bolster the social and political urgency of the information which the layperson (filmgoer) may be unaware. In that sense the film deserves its acclaim. There are moments of humor and wit balanced with disgust and pity. But, like all mediated texts, Guggenheim manipulates and edits relevant information and counterarguments that could confound his...