May 13: Hoop Dreams | Documentary
Hoop Dreams is such an incredible story, that you could honestly see a fictionalized version of this movie with hardly any changes. The accounts of Arthur Agee and William Gates are simultaneously tragic and wonderful, and despite starting down the road of high school basketball the same way, their paths wind through highs and lows on their own. It all starts in an inner city neighborhood basketball court, where Arthur and William both live and play and learn. This court is the backdrop for gang activity and drug deals, symbolizing how for many kids basketball is the way they can get out of the gutter. Arthur and William are both discovered by a scout for St. Joseph’s High School, a private school outside of the city with a renowned basketball program. This is the start of a great opportunity for the boys. Being plucked from the inner city court and given the opportunity at this prestigious school means they are that much more likely to avoid the gang activity, to avoid dropping out, and maybe even refine their skills to get picked up by a college. Once they enter St. Joseph’s, their paths diverge.
Let’s check in with Arthur. His days at St. Joseph’s went a lot worse; he did not make the varsity team, instead playing for the freshman team off the bat. The coaches all remark on how he has potential to become a great player, but something is missing and his development is slower. He’s also not a standout student like William. Arthur seems content with doing the minimum it takes to skate by and stay on the team. He is not thriving like William is, and it may be in part because life at home is a lot more of a struggle for Arthur. His father is involved with drugs and has a difficult relationship with his mother. When she gets laid off, the power gets shut off in their home. There is a very harrowing scene of the family walking around in the dark, with just a flashlight and nothing else. The struggle for this family to make it on the welfare system is palpable. This means that Arthur does not have the same opportunities as other kids. When his family cannot pay St. Joseph’s tuition, there is nobody to come in and help him out; since he’s just a sophomore who has not played varsity ball, it’s probably a tougher sell. Arthur returns to the public school in the inner city, and works summers at Pizza Hut to help the family, whereas William goes to the Nike All-American basketball camp and rub elbows with major college coaches.
“That’s why when somebody say, ‘when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me’, and that stuff. Well, I should’ve said to them, ‘if I don’t make it, don’t you forget about me.'”
I leave you all with one final thought on Hoop Dreams; it wasn’t even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary, because at the time, the category was not judge by other documentarians. It was judged by critics with their own agendas; they skewed the voting heavily by giving Hoop Dreams all 0’s (out of 10), and the documentaries that they wanted to be nominated they gave all 10’s. It was also revealed that at the screening of Hoop Dreams the critics judging it were so disinterested that they stopped it after twenty minutes. It’s only fitting that a movie about circumstance and race and class is snubbed so mightily by the very people who judge it. The system was changed the next year, and now only fellow documentarians judge the category.
Hoop Dreams is excellent. Go out of your way to watch it.
Want to keep up with the rest of our scavenger hunt? Check out the rest of our May Movie Challenge here.