Makers of documentaries about people's unfolding lives can't always be sure of the story they'll be telling, so having the right ingredients -- as in this case -- is key.
Homeroom is a film about a year in the lives of a diverse class of high school seniors in conflictive Oakland, California. The story took on unexpectedly heightened significance as Covid struck mid-school year and the Black Lives Matter movement arose in communities across the US.
The students' fight with the local school board to remove police from their schools, police they said were more threatening than comforting to "Black and Brown" teens and also wasted much-needed district funds, got a boost from these events as well. Poignant footage shows empty classrooms after school is shut down due to Covid and a virtual graduation ceremony celebrated at home with individual families.
Homeroom eschews first-person interviews in favor of capturing its subjects' interactions with each other and through social media. This can feel disorienting at first when viewers don't yet know who the film's "stars" are (or even their names), and it takes at least half of the documentary to really congeal. We also don't get the insight of perspectives on these students and events from teachers or family members.
But ultimately this fly-on-the-wall style does offer a lot of context in portraying the students' lives, concerns, and relationships, as do the social media observations. We see them through their own Instagram stories, we witness how they receive and digest news on their social media feeds, and we discover details about their lives through their online college application process.
The kids talk tough and struggle with undue hardships -- poverty and encroaching gentrification, instability at home, a lack of documentation, failing grades or low SAT scores, and violence all around them. Seeing them muster the courage to speak out publicly on issues that directly impact them, and especially witnessing the way they support each other mutually through good and hard times, is inspirational.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.