Deep Focus:  “Hoop Dreams”

Story posted March 13, 2021 in Arts & Entertainment by Paul Martin.

In an effort to expose a larger population of readers to “classic” films, CommRadio’s Arts & Entertainment Department is providing a weekly retrospective of notable motion pictures. These movies are selected individually for their cultural and cinematic achievements. For this submission to the Deep Focus catalogue, our department has chosen Steve James’ landmark 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams.”

Every kid growing up who spends a majority of their free time on a basketball court dreams of one day playing in the NBA. Getting paid large amounts of money to play a game you love entices every kid who spends hours practicing on the court.

But for kids who grow up in the inner cities in low-income housing, this dream also provides a gateway out of poverty. No documentary, albeit film, has shown these trials and tribulations in a more realistic manner than “Hoop Dreams.”

“Hoop Dreams,” which follows two exceptional basketball talents, Arthur Agee and William Gates, throughout their entire high school experience, paints an immensely detailed picture of why this dream manifests itself in the mind of so many inner-city kids. As the film follows the ups and downs of their high school careers, the viewer is exposed to the reality of how basketball can offer a path to higher success.

As the film progresses, William’s career is bogged down by injuries while Arthur ends up having a fair amount of success at the public school he transfers to. In the end, their dreams of making the NBA are all but dashed, but the two use their basketball skills to earn scholarships to colleges which allow them to pursue a higher education with no cost to their families.

What makes “Hoop Dreams” such a remarkable documentary lies in its unfiltered nature of depicting the reality these highly touted high school prospects go through. For both kids, it takes them an hour and a half to commute from his home in inner city Chicago to the suburban located prep school.

On top of this, they are surrounded by wealthier white classmates, which leads Arthur to remark “I’ve never been around many white people before” showing the inherent divide among inner city children and their suburban counterparts.

The documentary also shows just how much success on the court will open up doors for greater opportunities. While William becomes the new face of the basketball program, Arthur falls behind in the classroom and in his basketball development.

Eventually, his family loses their scholarship which forces Arthur to transfer to a public school. William on the other hand gets extended financial aid to cover his tuition and is given extra help in the classroom because of his basketball talents.

The difference in which their situations were treated shows just how unforgiving this prep system is, and results in outstanding debts to Arthur’s family due to his failed career at the school.

“Hoop Dreams,” despite its title, was not just a film about basketball aspirations. It painted an immensely detailed picture on divisions between race, economic class, and education.

Despite being one of the most critically lauded documentaries of all time, it failed to garner an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. Even in Oscar judges couldn’t see the value in this film, what “Hoop Dreams” shows to the viewer is an honest portrait of inner-city dreams, in which sports and entertainment offer a way out for kids born in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Paul Martin is a junior majoring in telecommunications and media studies. To contact him, email at phm5095@psu.edu

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