Culture & Poverty

Below is a list of short television series, documentaries, and films highlighting the issues that low-income Americans face. The list includes past, present and future segments and films that are dedicated to digging deeper into the issue of poverty and opportunity in America. We encourage you to submit suggestions to Spotlight by sending them to Lauren Gentile at

New Releases

Band of Sisters, Spring 2013

Band of Sisters focuses on the life experiences and current-day stories of more than a dozen nuns. Many of them have been central agents in the great social movements of our time. The sisters belong to different congregations from across the United States.

Poor Kids, November 2012
PBS’ Frontline

Poor Kids, an hour-long documentary that aired in November of 2012 on PBS, took a close look at families hit hard by the recession from the perspective of three young girls. The documentary can be viewed here.

The Line, October 2012

The Line lifts up the stories of both “newly poor” Americans and those who were pushed into deeper poverty by the Great Recession. It follows stories of individuals such as a single father of three from the Chicago suburbs who was laid off from his banking job and is now a regular at the local food pantry, and a fisherman from the Gulf Coast who continues to struggle in the aftermath of the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina. The Line premiered in October 2012.

A Place at the Table,  Spring 2013
Participant Media

A Place at the Table  follows the stories of three low-income individuals in America. The film documents the ripple effect of hunger, showing how a lack of healthy food negatively impacts not only these individuals, but also the American economy and society as a whole.

American Winter, Spring 2013
Joe and Harry Gantz 

American Winter profiles eight families dealing with the Great Recession. It was funded in-part by a Kickstarter project, and  aims to humanize the difficult decisions being made in federal budget discussions around social services.


The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation, expected Spring 2011 PBS

The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation will examine how early childhood experiences serve as a vital stepping stone to later opportunity. Being produced for a PBS broadcast by California Newsreel with Vital Pictures, this documentary also will follow three families to give viewers real-life examples of human development and its effects. This documentary was previously titled American Birthright, covered in a past OOTS as well. Release plans are for spring 2013.


The Poverty Tour, October 2011
PBS, Tavis Smiley

The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience was the focus of a special five-episode series that aired on PBS in the fall of 2011. Each episode was devoted to video highlights from Tavis’ August 2011 18-city, 11-state poverty bus tour with his co-host on PRI’s Smiley & West radio show, Princeton professor Dr. Cornel West. Following each night’s highlights from the tour, Tavis also spoke with a leading anti-poverty advocate, including Feeding America CEO Vicki B. Escarra, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, economist Jeffrey Sachs and ethics and religion commentator Jim Wallis.
You can watch the series here

Waiting for Superman, January 2010
Davis Guggenheim, director; Lesley Chilcott, producer

Waiting for Superman: an Inconvenient Truth, depicts and analyzes the failing public school system in America. The documentary follows several students from low-income, inner city school systems across the U.S. through their quest to be accepted in to one of the few coveted charter school spots in their communities.