Reviews and opinions 
- students reactions to the show 

Letters and papers on the show are interesting - not so much for what they say about American Pictures - rather for what they reveal about the immense impact the frequent rhetorical use of America's beautiful ideals have had on its young.  
For many the show is very painful when they realize how this rhetoric had blinded them from seeing reality around them - thereby perhaps betraying the very ideals. Others give moving accounts of racism's impact on their own lives.  
(The real names are kept confidential). 

Prisoner eating on toilet in cell

"I am so hurt! I feel betrayed by my country. So much anger welled up inside of me and so much hurt overflowed, I had to cry. All I could see were those pictures... those faces... the pain. I still see them everyday. And nothing can get rid of them. What can I do to stop the pain -- in them and in me." 
Letter from high school student in Texas 

"For the first time ever, I personally was presented with a realistic view of lower class America, the seemingly endless struggle that they are up against. Why is it that up until now the presentation of the struggle of America's lower class to society was virtually nonexistent?" 
20 papers from an economics class in Denison University

"I have never considered myself a racist. In fact, some of my closest friends are black. ....Your presentation opened my eyes. I now have a better understanding for what blacks have gone through and continue to go through. I was indeed sheltered!"
Letter from Andrea 

Hungry child in Alabama

"One of the young students asked you a question "What can I do to make this better?" I sensed that her heart was frozen in isolation and fear. You have the answer but your program doesn't." 
A loving critique of the show 

"However there was still a vestige of racism in me. I realized that at night and I'm walking near some black youth, I tense up as if they're going to flounce on me. Though I tell myself that they won't do it, it is still a form of racism to automatically suspect them. 
I had also accused lower-class black teenagers who had verbally or physically threatened me, of contradicting their own efforts for equality. I didn't fully realize that the aggressiveness was all they really had to fight the system with." 
Paper by Kenneth 

"I felt emotionally drained and I was made much more aware of my feelings towards blacks and saw a new side of them. That was one of the things Holdt was trying to accomplish -- to get his viewers to face their attitudes of racism. I always liked to think I had no major prejudices; I have black friends and as a Catholic I shouldn't have any, but we all do and Holdt made me realize that I am no exception." 
Paper by Archy 

"This touching and truthful documentary should be shown so often and so widely until American Pictures becomes as well known as "Romeo and Juliet." 
Paper by Yesim 

Poor white in North Carolina

"I was raised in an affluent community, but for me it hasn't been the fear to enter the poor's homes and thoughts; it is the revolt against those I perceive as the cause of oppression that tears me apart. In my heart I begrudged the rich because I never saw them entering the ghetto to help, as I did. 
I am now beginning a relationship with a man who is very wealthy. It scares me because of my attitudes that make me want to run in the other direction." 
On the pain of adjusting to segregation 

"I am ashamed because fear for my own well-being overrides my desire for change, and ashamed as well for the fact that it is attitudes like mine that keep the oppressed, oppressed." 
The guilt and fear in racism 

"We are a society of dreamers and it is because of this that your program brings us to tears. It gives me great hope to see that you've exposed the monster of our fears and retained your faith in mankind. Despite your terrible experiences, please continue your faith in the American people." 
Letter from "a member of the privileged class" 

"I classified all blacks as inferior. This was the most influential factor in shaping my prejudices..... I know that the first thing that must be done is for me to change my way of thinking..... Thanks to your slide show I know that I must get to know the person before I determine what they are like." 
On growing up in affluent isolation 

"I walked out of your show feeling free ...more free than I have in a long time. I felt free of the fear I have of "different" people. I never really thought of myself as a prejudiced or racist person. I realize now that by avoiding and separating myself from these "other" groups I put up a wall of fear between myself and the rest of the world. I now feel that I can go out and do the things I've dreamed of because I will concentrate on the similarities between humans ...not the differences." 
By forcing me to step into the shoes of all the people that you met, you helped me to start letting go of my fear. 

Linda's father

"In total, with an intermission, four hours took this journey. Started out with lightheartedness, though grew my mind heavily overcast, my body paralyzed After, with painfully miserable realities, my eyes bathed dried out and shrunk, was how my mind looked." 
A poem about the show 

"American pictures I saw that first Spring night It's not entertainment he said and he was right These are the pictures in my mind And I see that I've been blind." 
Another poem about the show 

"I felt a variety of emotions when I watched your show..... I believe that people who are willing to work would make this system successful. I know that many people just don't want to work, and I don't think that society should contribute money to their aid....... 
I would like to thank you for opening my eyes to an aspect of society that I hadn't seen before." 
A defensive and yet open mind 

"Though many people, including myself, know the oppression that is present in society we tend to become separated from it. Sometimes we hide our knowledge of it altogether - maybe because we can't handle being oppressed ourselves. Not acknowledging these feelings of helplessness is what is alienating us from the rest of the country." 
I'm so tired of making excuses for not doing something 

"As I watched your pictures I felt tears well down my face, anger in my blood, pain in my soul, then hope in my heart and motivation in my mind. I will keep those pictures of my fellow Americans in my mind every day and dedicate my life to them, so someday they will have the same opportunities that I have." 
I will do all that I can to make the pictures of America improve. 

"Through the slides I could see how the "victims of prejudice in America" live, and how helpless they were. Everyday, the public passes by these bowels and glance out from the corner of their eye but keep on driving to their destination without a second thought. I believe the people who keep driving and ignore the problem known as prejudice, are actually the root of the problem because of their ignorance." 
I was very sheltered from such atrocities demonstrated in the show


"Your insight has helped us to distinguish between fear which can serve to protect us, and that irrational and reactive fear which is instilled in us by institutions trying to protect themselves. If we can continue to recognize fear-motivated actions, we can re-evaluate them and change them." 
Suggestions from S.U.N.Y students on improving the show  


Main categories under "Reviews" menu:

Index of reviews

Interviews with Jacob Holdt   

Reviews of Jacob Holdt's museum exhibitions ....and life

Reviews of the show in the general media   

Reviews of the show in college papers 

Student reactions to the show  

Reviews of the book

Most academic reviews



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