Possible Selves: A PBS Documentary

“Possible Selves,” a new documentary about youth in foster care, starts with a scene that most
high schoolers in America will recognize. As powerful lights shine down on the green carpeting
of a football field, dozens of players chase a spinning ball as a crowd roars.

Off to the side, high school student and foster youth Alex watches the game as a member of the
marching band — his guiding passion through several tough years in foster care. Hoisting a
tuba on his burly frame, he waits for the band to start and for his moment to perform under the
lights. Even as he strives for normalcy, Alex is haunted by a stigma that his peers will never see
him as equal.

“Being labeled a foster child isn’t a good thing,” he recalls in a voiceover. “It gives other children
the right to separate themselves from you because ‘you’re not like us.’ Hearing other people call
them no good or call them dumb or idiots because they're in a foster home — and it’s not even
their fault — makes it that much worse.”

“Possible Selves,” directed by Shaun Kadlec, follows Alex and a few other Los Angeles County
foster youth during times of struggle and success. An hour-long cut of the movie was broadcast
in May on all PBS affiliates as part of National Foster Care Month. It is now available to watch
on the PBS website and through its app.

All of the young people featured in the documentary participate in First Star Los Angeles, a
program that aims to reverse statistics that show only a small fraction of youth in foster care end
up on college campuses.

The film shows Alex, Mia and others preparing for bright futures at First Star while also
reflecting on the challenges of pursuing success while in foster care. As they navigate
adolescence and college dreams, these young people are frequently reminded that their paths
are often more difficult than their peers. Alex recounts a classmate’s confusion when he tells her
that the person picking him up from an after-school program is not his dad, but his social worker.
“What did you do?” she asks him, assuming that he has done something to deserve that
situation. When the movie starts, 14-year-old Alex has just found a happy and welcome place in
the home of one of his bandmates, rescuing him from a depressing stint in a group home. By
the end of the movie, though, we find out that the once-heartwarming placement doesn’t last.
While Alex has found success with a traveling drum corps, his foster family has kicked him out
amid disagreements.

That ends up bringing him closer to his biological family, although Alex struggles with his mental
health and keeping his housing. At the end of the film, Alex returns to take classes at a
community college, determined to obtain a degree in music.

Mia, another young person featured in the documentary, also ends up at college as the film
concludes, though her path is different. In a touching scene, we see Mia dropped off at San
Francisco State University by her foster parents. The pair help Mia cart her belongings across
campus to her dorm room, where her new roommate greets her with a happy shriek. As they
part, Mia and her parents share a warm hug, with the foster youth struggling to hold back tears.
The foster parents tell her to call them if she needs anything. “Keep walking and don’t look
back,” her foster dad tells her with some gentleness. •

“Possible Selves”
A Foothill Productions, 2024, 56 minutes, www.PBS.org.

— Reviewed by Jeremy Loudenback