There is an expectation often associated in the United States where a child must do well in school and go to college, ivy league if possible.
Every year, numerous high school seniors across the country await the letter that holds their future. In the mid-2010s, there was a series of viral videos of teens from a small town in Lousiana who found out they got into their top choices. Filmmakers Dan Chen and Jesse Einstein took notice.
TM Landry Prep School was known for a 100% acceptance rate into the country’s (and world’s) most elite colleges. So Chen, Einstein, and their crew asked to film the school and follow mainly four students as they continue their journey to excellence.
Then a New York Times article came out exposing massive controversy. At the same time, there was the rigging college admissions scandal that included Hollywood parents paying for their kids to get into the same universities TM Landry Prep School was getting their students in. So the filmmakers shut down production and had to rethink their whole story.
After viewing their documentary, Accepted, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, I spoke with the director and producer. The following is some of our conversation about their very important documentary:
After seeing the viral videos and before the scandal, what was the original idea behind filming this prep school?
Dan: I was interested in what it would be like to be a kid who goes to a school that’s located in a small town, that doesn’t have a ton of resources, and that’s killing it. What is empowering you, and what is the pressure feel like? That was my curiosity going into the story.
The New York Times spoke about abuse going on within the school as well as other allegations. When the scandal came out, what was your reaction?
Dan Chen: Honestly, I remember when Jesse and I found out about the allegations against the school, we were horrified, and we had felt that we missed something. Our first thought was how can we actually help these students whose futures are being challenged.
They decided to stop filming so that everyone could figure things out for themselves. Then, the students had to decide what their next steps were. Should they stay with this now-tarnished prep school? Should they drop out and start at a new high school? Should they stop school altogether? And for the filmmakers, what should they do with the footage they have? Should they continue filming, and if so, how do they stay objective yet loyal to their subject matter?
I won’t spoil what exactly the students decided. What I will say is that this documentary made me think. It reminded me of my own time in school, the pressure to do well, the uncertainty of what may happen, and the constant worry.
I shared with Chen and Einstein what I took from it. I came from a different background from these students but still could relate. I asked them what else do they hope audiences will take from this film?
Dan Chen: I have two things, and the first thing is I hope that people see these students’ stories just at face value as human beings going through the last year of high school and transitioning into their futures. It’s a universal story, it’s a timeless one it’s about coming of age and growing up and seeing the world and kind of seeing more of the ugliness and the complexities of it and deciding who you want to become in this kind of world.
The second thing that I would hope people take away is to question their views. (These scandals that came out) shakes so many of our foundational beliefs about American society, education, race, class, and access.
My hope is that anyone coming in this movie, no matter what their background is will find something new to think about and find something old towards what they believe.Dan Chen, Director
Jesse Einstein: My favorite people that watch this movie are people that have these deeply entrenched, preconceived notions about what going to Harvard or Yale means or any of these great schools. If someone comes into their office and they’re hiring, and they went to MIT, they’re more likely to hire that person. I hope that after people see this documentary and they are in a position to hire people, they might take a second look at Xavier or LSU, or one of these schools that’s‘ not Harvard.
You recognize that these kids deserve to go wherever they want to go.Jesse Einstein, Producer
At the end of our interview, I learned about how the students they were filming are progressing in their lives and are still involved with promoting their film and doing press. I encourage anyone and everyone to check out Accepted and see how the lives of these teens, three years later, have shown that what really matters is perseverance and belief in yourself. It is now available on-demand.
Their official website is: https://www.acceptedfilm.com/
Watch the trailer: