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Documentary Film for a Social Problems Cause, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 1797

Essay

The documentary Hoop Dreams (1994) follows two aspiring basketball players, Arthur Agee and William Gates, towards their dream of playing in the NBA.  Taking a look at their inner lives, education, and other important areas, the documentary blends a number of important social problems into the 170-minute film.  It has since become the pre-eminent basketball documentary, capturing a 1994 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for Best Documentary and furthering its fame over the years.

Agee and Gates were chosen for their status as promising young basketball players.  However, combined with their socioeconomic status and unlikely route to professional stardom, the documentary sets up the ultimate high-risk drama – either the two will overcome odds to the NBA, or fail amongst the wide variety of barriers between them and their success.  It is worth mentioning the number of barriers between them and their dreams – drugs, injury, the prospect of parenthood, school grades, and the ruthless process of collegiate basketball prospects.

Over the course of the documentary, the two young men are faced with a number of successes and failures.  Injuries, family life, and educational trials plague the men while they do obtain some success.  For instance, each player eventually manages to play Division I basketball and are able to “make it out of the ghetto,” so to speak.  With a potent blend of successes and failures, the film certainly captures the highs and lows of their struggle to make it.

Chosen Social Problem

One of the biggest social problems in Hoop Dreams is found with that of poverty.  There is one point in the film when Arthur Agee’s father leaves the home – a crack addict – leaving Agee’s mother responsible for the care of the household.  On $268 a month, she is forced to bear the tremendous responsibility, which results in the utilities being turned on at one point in the film.  His mother eventually makes her way towards a dream of her own, as she accomplishes her training as an auxiliary nurse.  More generally, it is apparent to see the two young men struggle as inner-city students and individuals, which undoubtedly affects them in a variety of ways – from their basketball-related dreams to their grades.

However, that is certainly not the only social problem present in the film.  In fact, a long list could be made for Hoop Dreams, as the documentary film integrates economic division along with race, education, family values, and further dynamics of inner-city life.  Some of these are inextricably linked with the primary social problem to be analyzed presently, the latter being poverty.

It isn’t difficult to see how the primary social problem – at least in terms of this analysis – of poverty become intertwined with other social problems.  That of racism and political greed is certainly one of them.  A suburban high school chooses both young men to play for the school, but after one year, one is dropped by the team – and thus the school, being unable to pay for the education – in a stark contrast.  Clearly based on athletic talent, the school demonstrates its greed and “use” of the young men that they aggressively recruited.  As Agee moves to an inner-city school, the contrast is thus seen between the suburban white school and the dangerous alternative.  Political undertones become clear in the cutthroat competition.

Justification of Chosen Social Problem

It is clear that one of the most important themes of the film is found in poverty.  While it expresses it in many ways, such as with the relationship between it and education, family dynamics, and personal integrity, as well as political undertones, poverty can be seen as a primary theme in Hoop Dreams.  An argument could certainly be made for other social problems as equally important problems in the film, due to the wide-reaching nature of it, though the current analysis will concentrate on this single item.

Poverty is one of the universal problems in the world.Many estimates put 15 percent of Americans in that category, with certainly higher numbers in less-developed areas across the world.The relationship between what the two young men and their families experience in Hoop Dream, and other individuals, is clear.  Even to a smaller extent, the viewers of the documentary are able to relate to the financial struggles that can shatter and affect dreams.

It could be argued that the primary audience of Hoop Dreams is those better off than others. Certainly, this is a natural primary audience to consider, as it is vital to approach these problems in order to achieve change.  Ideally, such a deep look at poverty-related issues for young men could incite change and a longing look into these problems.  Perhaps it could make a difference in the educational and other opportunities for those who would normally not have them.

Taken in another light, there is another primary audience that could be included for the documentary.  Arguably, young people could be considered an important audience for the film, due to the dynamics that affect all young people.  As today’s young people view such a popular documentary, and see the poor and wise choices that they make – and the results – perhaps some important lessons could be learned.  A proper understanding of the dynamics present in the film for a young man or woman could be incredibly impactful.

Even for the “average viewer,” the topic of poverty is not one that is out-of-reach.  Hoop Dreams relates poverty-related problems to a number of other primary areas of life, such as the pursuit of one’s dreams.  Additionally, the average viewer is probably personally invested in poverty in some way, shape, or form – such as a friend or family member, or just general financial concerns.  In many different lights and manners, it is easy to see why poverty is a relevant and important problem – certainly one that makes the documentary relevant to many in the audience.

Critique

There is an inherent weakness of any documentary in this fashion.  As the cameras follow the two young men, what the viewers see may not be a truthful presentation of such events.  In other words, the mere presence of cameras following around two prime individuals can certainly change the actions of all involved.  With such a suburban setting and with the film centering on such dynamic relationships, perhaps the cameras’ presence made a slight difference.

Another inherent weakness can be made here as well.  As two of the most promising inner-city talents were chosen, the documentary obviously made a cognizant choice of two rising starts.  Thus, what would happen if cameras followed two more “ordinary” young men in the region?  Would things have been more troubling?  Combined with the previous point, there is plenty of room for discussion and speculation.  However, it is easy to dispel these weakness as those of a documentary – and not necessarily weaknesses of this documentary.

One of the most obvious strength of the film is the transparency of the drama, dynamics, and issues brought up with the characters.  Even with the slight and natural drawbacks previously mentioned, the viewer has a clear and unadulterated look at the life of the two young men.  As they deal with family issues that are heavily laced with money problems, the viewer can sense the weight of the problems.  A number of other problems – such as their education – can be viewed in the same light, without narration or typical editing.

The nature of the problems exposed in the film is quite profound.  In fact, it’s difficult to get into the various dynamics and length of the items covered in the movie.  At one point, Gates is succeeding on the court and looks to have a good chance at making the NBA.  However, he is forced to sit out the season due to a considerable knee injury.  But instead of capitalizing on his educational opportunity at the suburban high school, he loses interest.  Clearly affected by the change and the possible ramifications of his dream, he struggles to make it – later requiring special tutoring to meet minimum NCAA eligibility requirements.  This situation alone conjures up plenty of dynamics unrelated to pure poverty and socioeconomic status – but the undertones are certainly present for these aspects.  The values clearly weren’t there at that time, as he is blinded by his dream and thereby suffers with his education at that time.

In fact, neither was able to reach his dream.  William, the one who suffered the knee injury, was able to meet minimum eligibility requirements and received a scholarship offer from Marquette University.  However, Arthur cannot meet those eligibility requirements – he goes to a junior college and then later transfers to a Division I school, where, in both cases, the requirements don’t apply.  The viewer is left to wonder what type of outcome their lives would have had if they had applied themselves to their studies at a higher level.  Each young man may have been improperly prepared for what they encountered – and a lack of resources across the board could be partially to blame, easily connecting poverty to the overriding subject of the film.

The most important commentary on poverty is seen in a political and family contexts.  It is clear that the dishonest practices of recruiting takes advantage of students from a lesser socioeconomic background, as can be seen with the “ditching” of one primary character after his play on the court is not on par with expectations.  On a family level, the troubling and natural consequences are seen from the perspective of family dynamics, with topics such as single motherhood, drugs in the family, and family values brought up by the documentary.

This leads into the biggest weakness from the film – analysis and responsibility.  The viewer does not get to see possible attempts at tough questions answered by the perpetrators of racism.  Taking advantage of talented black athletes that cannot go to good schools, the treatment of such students is never approached by tough questions that could be explored.  Instead, the documentary film lets the viewer see the story unfold.

Evaluate

Hoop Dreams certainly leaves a lasting impression that affects the viewer.  Personally, I was moved by the incredible presentation of the reality of the young men.  It is not that the producers have changed my mind about something – it is more in the awareness of these social issues that have been engaged and improved.

Overall, with the stark view into the two young men’s lives, it is difficult to believe that this documentary couldn’t impact awareness of these social issues.  As this is an incredibly popular documentary, it is unlikely that it hasn’t taught important lessons to society and, in particular, the youth of the United States.  The power and force of Hoop Dreams is quite profound.

Words Cited

Hoop Dreams. Dir. Steve James. Perf. William Gates and Arthur Agee. Kartermquin Films, 1994. Film.

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