Our Story

American Nightmare/American Dream is about the struggles and triumphs of four women who break down all barriers to escape poverty, get a college degree and pave the road for others to follow. This is a character-driven documentary from two experienced filmmakers that will be done in two stages – a 15-minute short and later an 82-minute feature. The preview of the short has already been vetted by education professionals who have pronounced it effective in inspiring young people –because they can identify with the people and situations portrayed in these powerful stories. Above all this is a story about the power of education. They (and we) believe that the film can increase the number of poor people who get a college degree (and even start to change the stigma around poverty).

Our characters must fight not only poverty but eviction, incarceration, domestic violence and homelessness to attain their goal of a college degree – their successes give the lie to the negative stereotypes of people on public assistance. Leyla, formerly-incarcerated, graduated from Columbia University and is now a Soros Justice Fellow. Shawnta is now graduated from Hunter College and working with young people. Hirah, Pakistani-born, had lived in a homeless shelter but now has a PhD from UAlbany and is a Research Scientist for the NY State Office of Developmental Disability. Anne Marie, a mother of two, struggled for 11 years through the wrongful death of her partner and her own cancer to get her BA and is a now a Junior Fellow at Yale.

Leyla’s motor board says it all!

The four amazing women who are the film’s characters started out on welfare had to fight the welfare bureaucracy, the stigma and constraints of poverty, and a system that vilifies them to achieve their successes — and now with their degrees they are helping others to follow their path. They are role models for low-income and people of color who are searching for a path out of poverty. Since “you gotta see it to be it”, we want to ​widely distribute this documentary to give others positive role models, engage audiences in these critical issues,  and dispel negative stereotypes about poor people.

What Drives Us?

If you’ve read this far down – you may already know! It’s our passion to tell these great stories that will make a difference to people. With this short film we know that it will help dispel the negative stereotypes that shame and discourage poor people and people on welfare. We can replace those stereotypes with real people and real models for success who were formerly poor or on welfare and who have used a college degree to create lives of economic security and commitment to helping others achieve the same.

Why this film?

Why are we making this film?

Because these are great stories

Because the stories are powerful

Because education is life changing

Because these stories can inspire others

Because kids need to see people like them reflected in the media

Because young people need hope that there is a good future for them.

Shawnta uses her story to inspire others!

Leyla tells her story at the Criminal Justice forum in the White House.

Why Now?

We’ve known for a very long time that education is the surest route out of poverty. Whether that’s training in a trade or a skill or a college degree; education is what’s needed to prepare young people for a secure future.

Right now over 46 million Americans live in poverty and the Trump Administration is currently planning to raise the baseline income level for “poverty” so that number will rise! While the causes are numerous, there is a clear correlation between education level and poverty. Did you know that more US jobs now require a college degree than a high school diploma! Lack of a college degree is one of the strongest indicators of poverty. But there is hope. According to a Ford Foundation Report, 90% of women on welfare, who earn a four-year college degree, permanently leave public assistance. 90% wow, that’s an amazing outcome – we can find no other program that has that kind of success.

Given the current Administration’s plans to gut the welfare and food stamp programs, access to education needs to be encouraged – urgently! its clear benefits revealed, and a path for low-income people illuminated.

Through education our characters radically changed their lives and the lives of their children and families and now live financially secure, self-determined lives. By telling their inspiring stories, poor people will see people like themselves and understand that this path out of poverty, though often difficult, is achievable and yields lasting results. Our film will motivate people to get a college degree and begin to shift the narrative about poor people and people on welfare.

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