Waiting for “Superman” Documentary Analysis

Posted on

David Guggenheim’s Waiting for “Superman” looks at how the American public school system is failing its students and displays how reformers have attempted to solve this problem.  Towards the end of the film, there is a segment that illustrates the charter school lottery as it takes place for different schools.  The film shows how the audience members, filled with prospective students and their families, all sit with apprehensive looks on their faces as they anxiously listen to the names and numbers of the children who are called and are therefore accepted into the charter school by luck of the draw.

The most influential scene during this segment is when one of the students, Bianca, and her mother, Nakia, wait for Bianca’s name to be called as the lottery nears the end.  The filmmakers made sure to film how Nakia becomes increasingly more anxious and concerned as time passes during the lottery, but fewer spots become available and her daughter’s name has not been called (Guggenheim 1:32:49).  As young as Bianca is, she too displays this look of defeat as her name is not called (Guggenheim 1:32:56).  The film portrays the deep sadness that Bianca and her mother feel when Bianca is not accepted into the charter school as the two embrace one another at the end and Nakia dries her daughter’s tears (Guggenheim 1:37:35).

This scene is an important one because it highlights how the acceptance of students into charter schools is determined by the luck of the draw and how some students are not able to enter into the public school of their choice solely because luck was not on their side.  The filmmakers deliberately kept the camera on certain students and their families, like Nakia and Bianca, in order to show how those who did not get into charter schools felt extremely disappointed and emotional because they had hoped to be accepted into a school that would not fail them.

The film illustrates the problem of how American public schools are failing children, as it explicitly describes many public schools as “drop-out factories”, in which over 40% of students do not graduate on time.  In response to this problem, many reformers, including Geoffrey Canada, have tried to look for solutions.  The film shows how Geoffrey Canada’s solution to this problem was to create charter schools that would give children and their parents more options within the public school system and would hopefully raise academic performance, decrease dropout rates, and increase the number of students who attend college.  However, the film shows how even charter schools leave some children behind, as those who are not chosen by the luck of the draw in the lottery system, are not able to attend the charter schools of their choice.  Through the stories of five children who wanted to attend a charter school, the film shows how one child was accepted and another child was accepted from the wait list while three children were not accepted at all.   By showing its audience that even charter schools close their doors to some students, which them forces these students to attend failing public schools, the video illustrates how there are still flaws to the American public school system and challenges that need to be addressed.  The goal of the film is to create a successful public education system filled with great schools that leave no child behind, and it calls for reform from all of us in order to reach that goal.  At the end of the film, there is writing that states: “The problem is complex but the steps are simple.  It starts with teachers becoming the very best, leaders removing the barriers of change, neighbors committed to their school, you willing to act” (Guggenheim 1:45:05-1:45:28).  The film recognizes how the American public plays an important role in helping to accomplish the reform goal of making American public schools great.

Screenshot 2017-04-12 22.49.08

Source: Waiting for “Superman” 1:32:49

Screenshot 2017-04-13 10.24.32

Source: Waiting for “Superman” 1:32:56

Screenshot 2017-04-12 22.29.00

Source: Waiting for “Superman” 1:37:35


Guggenheim, Davis. Waiting for “Superman.” 2010. Film.