From by Sophia Hollander:
Calhoun School’s recently released documentary, “I’m Not Racist…Am I?” follows two other racism-related films made at elite New York City private schools. Filmmakers for the other two projects, which involved Dalton and Trinity Schools, say the schools have focused more actively on improving diversity since the films’ releases—even as the movies revealed surprising and disturbing realities.

Dalton School, “American Promise”

When Michèle Stephenson and her husband Joe Brewster made a film tracking their son and a friend through Dalton School beginning in kindergarten, she said they thought it would document an experiment in racial diversity. They believed the film, which they called “American Promise,” would show that “diversity can work and be something positive,” she said.

It didn’t quite turn out that way.

“I love being at Dalton,” declared their son’s friend, Seun Summers, a giggling African-American 5-year-old early in the film. But in later years, Seun’s mother discovers him scrubbing his gums with a toothbrush, trying to make them pinker. By sixth grade, his eyes have dimmed and he avoids looking directly into the camera. “I hate school,” he says.

By the end of the film, Seun has been asked to leave Dalton for academic reasons, while the filmmakers’ son, Idris, also African-American, struggles to find his place—teased by black friends outside of school and isolated inside it.

“The personal aspect of the film reveals these structural issues,” said Ms. Stephenson, citing scenes where a cab speeds by her son’s outstretched hand on the street—or where the boys note that minority students are often the first ones suspected of inciting a class disruption.

“We find ourselves in this situation where there’s the promise of being president, but there’s also the reality of Ferguson and being shot,” she said.

Since the film’s initial premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013, Dalton has made some missteps in its diversity efforts—like when school officials apologized earlier this year for screening a slavery satire that many found inappropriate.

Dalton declined to comment on the film, the slavery video or its diversity initiatives.

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