Hoop Dreams is a documentary directed by Steve James in 1994. It follows two boys, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as they enter high school and pursue their dreams of becoming professional basketball players. They live in a pretty terrible neighborhood in Chicago, and they are discovered playing in parks by a man who offers them the opportunity to come to a wealthier, suburban school to play basketball. They go to St. Joesph's, a school that charges tuition fees and is located far away from the boys, forcing them to commute and jump through hoops to graduate. There is a point in the film where Arthur cannot graduate from Marshall high school because St. Joesph's will not release his transcript until his parents pay $1,300. This was all incurred because he was recruited - not to pay tuition, but to play basketball. It is so sickening and unfair to watch. So much of the film is sad and unfair. It's hard to see people suffering in such poverty, and to feel so helpless watching it.
I just couldn't stop watching it. I had to see what happened to these boys and their families. The documentary was so long and unusual, but it gave off a real feeling of intimacy. I felt like I knew these families, like I was there with them through all of these ups and downs. My mom watched it with me and Anthony, and we all felt like we watched these boys grow up, like it was home movies, almost. We all felt a lot of frustration about their situations. Who failed them here? The schools? The lack of role models? We talked a lot about irritations we have with our own experiences in schools, of feeling so unprepared for real life, like we didn't learn any skills. We sort of felt like we could relate to some parts of their situations - not knowing how important what you do in high school actually is to your real life, not knowing what to do with our life, period, that sort of thing.
Ebert writes a lot about the production of this film in his essay, all of which is really interesting to me. He writes about how this film started out, saying, "When the filmmakers began, they planned to make a 30-minute film about eighth-graders being recruited from inner-city playgrounds to play for suburban schools. Their film eventually encompassed six years, involved 250 hours of footage, and found a reversal of fortunes they could not possibly have anticipated: (The Great Movies, 220). When I first read this, I couldn't understand how the film grew to be this size and scope. After watching it, I cannot imagine it any other way. I could see how the filmmakers fell in love with these boys, just like me and my family did while watching it.
He also brings up an issue that happened before the film was released, writing, "Coach Pingatore and the school were parties to a suit to prevent the film from being released theatrically. The school comes off looking pragmatic and cold, but then ''Hoop Dreams'' reflects a reality that is true all over America, and not just at St. Joseph's" (The Great Movies, 222). I had no idea, but I can understand why they might have wanted to stop this film from being released. I'm glad Ebert included this bit of information, since I didn't see it anywhere else. It also seemed to confirm the reality that the film presented, in a way.
I didn't think I would like this movie, but I'm so glad it was on Ebert's list, otherwise I never, ever would have watched it. It was really fun to watch it with Anthony and my mom as well, to see them just as engrossed in it as I was. I was so surly thinking of watching this documentary, but I'm so glad that I am doing this project which forced me to sit down and watch it, since I loved it and was so moved by it.
The movie is streaming on Netflix, and it's really worth watching. You have to give it a chance, even if you are like me and very blah about sports. If you watch it, I'm so curious what you think!
Have any of you seen Hoop Dreams? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie essay on Hoop Dreams