Waiting For Superman- Film Analysis 2016

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The documentary, Waiting For Superman, takes a particularly somber turn, ¾ into the film. Imagery of distant, closed off, urban schools, and dark interiors of schools with silhouettes of children of color walking out of a dark classroom, a scene which was slowed down for added dramatic effect, were used to signal a turning point. This low point in the film was where the filmmakers acknowledge the despairing perceptions of the educational prospects of low-income, urban students.  This was a crucial scene, because it addressed the hopelessness that many educators, reformers, and everyday people have when considering the overwhelming and unrelenting nature of the problems within education. They framed this despair in the context of an unrelenting achievement gap which, despite an influx of money, laws, and educational reforms, simply wouldn’t budge. They claimed, “Even progressive educators began to believe…Couldn’t be fixed…” And that we may also come to the conclusion that, “those kids…can’t learn” (Guggenheim 1:13:42)

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Source: Waiting For Superman. Guggenheim. 2010

The scene cuts away from this despair and turns to black and white movie clips of Chuck Yeager, the first person to break the sound barrier in 1947. Prior to this achievement, it was commonly believed, even among many scientists, that the sound barrier could not be broken without the plane breaking apart into pieces. The filmmakers claim that this fear of pushing beyond the familiar limits, stifled scientific development. The narrative was that despite the naysayers and critics, Yeager defied the odds and proved them all wrong, and this achievement propelled science and aviation far ahead of where it was (Guggenheim 1:14:18).

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Source: Waiting For Superman. Guggenheim. 2010

Immediately following this side story about a “Great American Hero” defying the odds, the movie cuts back to the modern day with education reformer, Geoffrey Canada. Through Canada’s own words, narrator dialogue, and images of him interacting positively with youth of color in an urban environment, the stage was set for the viewer to believe he just may have the solution. He just may be the Superman Canada himself was hoping for. The film goes on to argue, using the words of Bill Gates, that the top charter schools, like KIPP Academy, are producing amazing results which has low income children performing higher, academically than the average student, not living in poverty (Guggenheim 1:19:28).

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Source: Waiting For Superman. Guggenheim. 2010

The film then cuts back to video of Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, equating the success of these charter schools to the sound barrier being broken, a feat previously considered impossible (Guggenheim 1:19:30).

Professor of education, Kevin Welner has written about and participated in panel discussions about this documentary. He is critical of the filmmaker’s decision to ignore the real issues which affect the educational experiences of children living in poverty. He argues that the “problems of structural inequality and inter-generational poverty are pushed aside in favor of a ’solution’ grounded in the belief that deregulation will prompt innovation” (Welner 2011). The filmmakers frame the problems in education as the fault of regulations and teacher’s unions, and provide charter schools, with the absence of red tape, as the solution to failing teachers, schools, and school systems.  


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

Welner, Kevin G. “Why ‘Inside Job’ bests ‘Waiting for Superman’ on school reform.” Busted Pencils Blog, 17 January 2011. Web. 15 April 2016.