In “Accepted” the director Dan Chen takes us inside the world of T.M. Landry, a Louisiana private school whose videos of African American students collecting Ivy League college acceptances once went viral. But nine months after the filmmakers’ first visit to the school, The New York Times published reports of physical abuse, falsified transcripts and “cultish” behavior on the part of its founders, Mike and Tracey Landry. Viewers of “Accepted” get a front-row seat to the life-altering impact of the school’s unraveling through the stories of four promising high school seniors: Adia, Alicia, Cathy and Issac.
As we witness both the documentary’s subjects — and its director — navigate a shocking development in real time, a quietly probing film emerges that pierces the myth of American meritocracy.
Chen makes the choice to plod along at the same measured pace throughout — even after the T.M Landry scandal comes to light — and forgo the cryptic scoring we’re used to hearing when the jig is up. Similarly, the cinematography by Chen and Daphne Qin Wu moves seamlessly between intimate hand-held shots and aerial views of western Louisiana landscapes that reflect the eventual loss of access to the Landrys and the school.
In the end, it is the resilience of the film’s teenage subjects that lifts “Accepted” to new heights. As they sit for close-ups in front of a swirly blue backdrop, gone are the Georgetown and Stanford sweatshirts, and the hopes they once represented. But in their place sits a clear understanding of the misguided pressures placed upon individual minority students to succeed in a society that systemically disadvantages them and a surprisingly powerful tale about making peace with imperfection.
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