When I started making The Lottery, I was looking forward to making a vérité film about four families in Harlem looking for a great school for their children. But the more I filmed and the more people I spoke to, the more shocking statistics I learned and felt were too important to leave out of the film. As you see in this clip, one of these statistics was the relative cost of educating a child versus incarcerating a child. You might think that these costs are unrelated, but consider this:
- 82 percent of inmates are high school dropouts
- 80 percent of inmates are functionally illiterate
- 52 percent of African-American men who drop out of high school end up in prison at some point in their lives
Failing to provide a quality education from a young age has devastating consequences, and in this country, 58 percent of African-American and Latino fourth graders are illiterate.
As disturbing as these statistics are, the families you see in the beginning of the clip are what make The Lottery special. Beautifully filmed by Wolfgang Held and scored by Gerard Smith and Tunde Adebimpe, the stories of four families are brought to life. Each family faces their own set of challenges, and the stories that bring them to lottery day are unique, but all of the parents in The Lottery want nothing more than to send their children to a great school and to hopefully make it possible for their children to attend college. Whether or not the parents went to college themselves, they all understand that a good education will provide their children with choices later in life.
People tell me that the parents in the film are the exception, that most parents in communities like Harlem are not as interested in education as these families are. But if you watch to the end of The Lottery, you will see something completely different. Five thousand parents pack into the Armory to show the world the truth: that they want better schools for their children. To me, the lottery is a visual metaphor for the problem -- there are far more parents who want better schools than there are spaces for their children.
Despite this reality, it is the parents' voices that seem to be left out of the conversation. You will read article after article where the authors reduce the conversation to being "pro-union, anti-charter school, pro-charter school, or anti-union." But if you ask the parents in The Lottery, this is not what is important. Parents do not care if a school is unionized or not, or if the school is called charter or not. All they care about is that the school is educating their children at high levels. There are schools like the ones in the film and many more that are working for children in historically underperforming districts, which proves that it is possible.
So regardless of what the school is called or whether or not it is unionized, I hope that we can begin focusing on solutions. The stakes are too high. The children in the film and millions more will be graduating or dropping out of high school before we know it.