Improperly educating children is violence. Without the proper support from teachers and parents the success of children is limited. There is no doubt that there is a tremendous gap between public and private education, but The Lottery exhibits something that lies somewhere in between.

The Lottery documents the hope and struggle of four Harlem families wishing to have their children win the yearly lottery to be enrolled in the Harlem Success Academy, a charter school that focuses on teachers, educators, and even parents being accountable for the success of their children. The featured families are mostly of low or modest-income, and each parent is certainly aware of the importance of innovative educational standards. While these children and families eagerly await the suspenseful lottery there are other urgent issues at hand. A large portion of Harlem citizens attempt to block the expansion of the Harlem Success Academy in support of keeping pubic schools open and to keep the teacher’s union intact.

The film portrays another battle between unions and non-unions, the benefits and disadvantages of both. According to the film, in New York City, it could cost nearly $250,000 for a teacher to be fired with due process. For a teacher, this is fantastic news as they can always rely on a job. But as one participant suggests, education is not a business of creating jobs, but educating the young. The Harlem Success Academy places direct accountability for the success of students in the teachers’ hands. The firm supervises individual teachers and encourages them to evolve their instruction methods in order to meet the changing tide of their student’s needs.

During a hearing on Harlem Success Academy’s expansion, founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz spouts off statistics left and right in order to explain the overall success of their charter school. However, the film never properly reveals that the true success of the charter school’s principles are invisible until there is direct evidence of these statistics lasting through the goal of the school, to assist their students in graduating college. The film would require a Hoop Dreams or Seven Up approach, following the children who made it into the school and those who did not and to see where they land in the future.

While the film does indeed reveal the opinions of both proponents and opponents of charter schools, the footage easily leans towards the good graces of the Harlem Success Academy. Most of the footage is in the perspective of the charter school with shots filmed in the well-equipped and colorful classes. Children smile and participate in class while the teachers are shadowed by supervisors in the back of the room. What is missing is oppositional footage of Harlem public schools. We hear from administrators, citizens, and parents who are opponents of charter schools, but we are never truly presented with how comparable aged students exist in Harlem’s public school. Sure most Americans have received, enjoyed, or suffered through a public education, how many have received an education from a public school in Harlem, a region with notorious violence and drug problems?

The film flows easily from issue to issue and topic to topic smoothly, making poignant observations without concrete conclusions. However, the film is easily imbalanced. The cinematography bounces back and forth between talking head interviews set to a black backdrop to create the intimacy that an issue such as education deserves. A few key moments are captured in historical settings that reveal the fate of the charter school or the children themselves. Director Madeleine Sackler and cinematographer Wolfgang Held are in-sync as they provide captivating images set to emotional and informative observations on a battle that deserves universal discourse.

The Lottery certainly engages the viewer and presents ideas that are of certain urgency and importance. All the families featured in the film, for one reason or another, are fully aware of the consequences of placing their children in what they consider to be substandard public schools. As stated earlier, the experiment requires time. But time is of the essence. Every year that a child is not provided with proper education their chances of succeeding reduces drastically. The film explores the urgency for educational reform in the United States, and its attempt has its flaws. But the film does succeed in one specific, non-bias area, by revealing that educational reform should continuously be an ongoing evolution, whether it is a public, private, or a charter school education.



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Aaron Weiss founded CinemaFunk in September 2009 after recieving his degree in Cinema Studies from the University of Central Florida. In 2012, he received his Master's in Cinema Studies from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He works full-time as a Senior Web Strategist at Tampa SEO Training Academy. When not doing either, Aaron is watching Indycar races, taking a hike, or riding his bike in Tampa, FL.