On this date (September 25) in 1957, the Little Rock Nine resisted state law and racist mobs to desegregate the Arkansas capital’s Central High School. “Teach Us All,” which lands on Netflix on the 60th anniversary of the action, frames those nine Black students’ defiance in the context of school systems that fail to live up to desegregation promises.
Sonia Lowman directs the film, which is distributed by Ava DuVernay’s Array. As she tells Colorlines in a phone interview, she witnessed the Little Rock School District’s evolving structural inequity via her current position with the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes. The Kansas-based education enrichment organization worked with Little Rock School District officials during its 2015 Arkansas government takeover, and Lowman saw first-hand how deeply segregated the predominantly Black district remains.
"That’s when I started connecting the dots," she says about the film’s relationship to the city’s history. "Sixty years later in Little Rock, history eerily repeats itself."
Despite the Little Rock Nine association, Lowman’s film focuses on school resegregation across the country. "Having lived on the coasts of this country, I know how we perceive racism as a sort of Southern thing, even though it happens in our own backyard," she explains about her decision to include New York City and Los Angeles school districts.
These case studies feature interviews with students of color who Lowman says are too often sidelined in education policy debates. "For anybody that watches the film, a really important point to take home is that we’re talking about real lives," she explains. "Parent, community member, whatever you are: recognize that we need to be talking to students more, not just letting them be abstractions of a policy. Once you hear them talk about their lives and experiences, it changes the conversation about how we can meet their needs."
Lowman also encourages audiences to sign up on the film’s website for resources to aid local action. One of those resources is a "social action curriculum" for student advocacy that draws on the film’s themes.
Watch the "Teach Us All" trailer below and look for the film on Netflix today. Visit TeachUsAllFilm.org to find a theatrical screening near you.