Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde
SYNOPSIS: Director Peter Nicks has spent more than a decade chronicling life in Oakland, CA through the lens of its diverse public institutions, revealing deep insights into some of the most consequential chapters of recent American history. The third and most personal in a trilogy of vérité portraits [The Waiting Room (2012), The Force (2017)], Homeroom follows a group of high school seniors in the tumultuous school year ending in Spring 2020. At centerstage is Denilson Garibo, one of two Student Directors on the Board of Education representing the 36,000 students in the Oakland Unified School District. A year derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and rocked by the na/onal trauma of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, Homeroom celebrates the tenacity of today’s youth. Confronted with crisis after crisis and coming of age in a chaotic world has not instilled pessimism, but a galvanizing determination to make change.
REVIEW: The kids are going to be alright! This might be a cliché conclusion but it was the overwhelming sensation I felt when I finished watching Homeroom, the finale of Peter Nicks’ trilogy about the great American city of Oakland, CA. In this documentary, we followed the senior class of 2020 at Oakland High School as they navigated the 2019-2020 academic year. Nicks’ documentary is well crafted and shines a light on the confounding problems Black and brown people face in the country.
These problems include, but are not limited to, a financial crisis, a housing crisis, an education crisis, food insecurity, police brutality, gentrification, COVID, an impeachment trial (the first one), and racial equality protests. We see all these crises and events unfold through the eye of high school students, particularly the members of the All-City Council Governing Board Student Union, as they fight against budget cuts and increased police presence in their schools. The students showcased in the documentary showed grit, determination, and conviction in fighting for what they believe in. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying they are much more grown-up than the school board members and elected officials that are supposed to represent them.
At its core this documentary is about the power of youth and the voices that they bring. It tells the story of Oakland but I am sure that it could be translated to many other American cities. One thing that a really appreciated is that Nicks’ did not make COVID19 the focal point of this piece instead integrated the story of the pandemic into a larger narrative about what was happening in the students’ lives. I would have really loved to see name cards pop-up when students were introduced because oftentimes I found myself forgetting their names as the documentary progressed. This small issue aside, this documentary was a good snapshot of the moment we are living in.
Homeroom played during the Sundance 2021 Film Festival and is currently awaiting distribution.