Director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, It Might Get Loud) directs this examination of American Public Education and it’s major problems. Written by Guggenheim and Billy Kimball, Waiting for Superman garnered a 2010 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award but failed to receive an Oscar nomination, which I think was perhaps, MADNESS!

It was a great year for documentaries, but except for my favorites, Exit Through the Gift Shop and GASLAND, WAITING FOR SUPERMAN was a masterpiece by any standard. The others, Wasteland, Restrepo and Inside Job (winner) were interesting documentaries at best but did not provoke quite the same reaction in viewers – the cornerstone of good documentary filmmaking.


This movie is a direct hatchet job on the American Education System, Teachers and the whole concept of Public Education. What’s wrong with our country’s schools, especially the Inner-City or Urban schools in Harlem and DC? It picks apart the No Child Left Behind policy enacted by President George W. Bush and leaves us drooling in almost unwarranted stupidity.

Guggenheim rails against the Teacher Union’s seemingly monolithic nature when it comes to sacking bad teachers (the Lemon Dance). It is, in short, a great documentary and will be a big upper or a big downer depending on who you are in the audience – if you have kids, if you’re a teacher, or if you’re in the “rubber room” in one of the New York City schools.

Waiting for Superman does one thing right above all else: it is as PROVOCATIVE as it is thoughtful. We learn that 68% of prison inmates are shown to be high school dropouts, and it costs the state (and its people) $32,000 a year to house a prisoner. Over 4 years that’s almost $130,000. Rewind the clock and send that same person to private school ($8,300 per year) over 13 years is $108,000, leaving over $20,000 for the state to spend on other social amenities.


This makes up the emotional core of the picture, and it’s a good one.

For instance, American students rank 25th in the world in Math and Reading, albeit rank first when it comes to Confidence. What?

The kind of Confidence that keeps the appearance of Superman on the horizon alive and kicking. The hidden Crucifix in the movie’s poster is no accident, but, as subtle as this hope and furthermore relates a sense of disillusionment about the gap that exists in students’ achievement – the gap between Dreams and Reality or Confidence and Performance. This sums the sensational story where things get both interesting and tricky.

Nonetheless some useful criticisms of the documentary have to be taken into consideration. Waiting for Superman presupposes that any problem with public schools will magically disappear once every school is bought out by your local big box store!

So it paints a very rosy picture of Charter and Private schools. And why not? They show how the teachers give a damn about students, and the better attention paid the better the students.

There are a few themes strung throughout the noose of the documentary. One major theme is: win the lottery and you’ll succeed. There are two lotteries therefore. One is the lottery that is played out in the gymnasiums of the Charter and Private Schools, with numbered ping-pong balls and kids who make your heart ache. The other lottery is the 500 billion dollars, the dollar of the American School System.

However, Waiting For Superman misses some issues entirely. It extols the virtues of Charter and Private Schools – with standards, dress codes, competitive environments, and disciplinary actions. Forgetting that winning that “Golden Ticket” through the lottery doesn’t mean you’re going to inherit the Chocolate Factory, because, like their Private School cousins, they’ll boot you out fast and hard if you do not meet their standards.

Additionally, the documentary glosses over some important and useful statistics:

One, the large number of successful public schools; two, the large number of charter schools with low test scores; three, the charter schools that kick out low performing students to maintain good school averages; four, the countries with better test scores that don’t fire teachers or privatize education and lastly, the research about how a student’s home life has more to do with their test scores than his or her teachers.

The film’s strongest impact comes from the case studies of five children, who show strong potential, but their parents struggle to set them up with the necessary education, placing them at the mercy of lotteries that determine who attends successful charter schools. The build-up is near impeccable, leading up to the film’s emotionally powerful third act.

A third act that, afterwards, is complimented perfectly by “Shine”, a beautiful end credits song by John Legend, and overall one of the film year’s very best original songs.

It isn’t perfect, but I’m gonna give Waiting for Superman an Oscar nomination and state that it was MADNESS to have ignored it.


  1. I thought this movie was great but very sad. Especially the part at the end where the kids were finding out if they made it in the lottery. I almost cried. Well I did tear up and I had to pause it, it’s really emotional. But the director did a good job. I would take my kids to private school if I could afford it cause it’s prolly better for them but I feel bad for all the kids that can’t go through a good school even when they want to.

  2. You right Stacey. I will not take my children ever, ever, ever to Public School. There are some good ones…but too few and far between.

    • That doesn’t count Brooks. You one of those people. You wonna have both worlds and belong to both, like, “I am Public but am Charter”. Don’t work that way Brooks. The Charter is just a way to pick the talented black folk outta the Public and use them to better the Charter so they can keep the status quo! You realize don’t you?

  3. I don’t see why you can’t belong to both? You saying poor people can’t go to better schools until their own school become better? If we go that road, brother we ain’t going nowhere. Howz the public schools gon get better if we don’t have some better schools to train good students who can come back and make this schools better?

      • So you saying, we shouldn’t allow some of our good students to take the opportunity of studying in some better schools. Well, there, that’s the vicious cycle out there, nobody gets some of that better education, so nobody gets better, so no one can help later. Remember, we gotta out ourselves out there in order to gain something to take back to our neighborhoods. You can leave the going back to the neighborhood to the individual but you gotta give them the opportunity first. Plus some of them do go back though. Not many. But some do.


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