Director: Steve James
Writer: Steve James
Producer: Steve James, Peter Gilbert & Frederick Marx
Cinematographer: Peter Gilbert
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
Even after Gates is taken to Marquette University, where the school has provided him with a peculiar manufactured Final Four championship recording, portraying Gates as the game winner, then offering him a full ride, with the family financially responsible for nothing, Gates still fails to apply himself. That is, until his guidance counselor, upon receiving another insufficient ACT score, declares that unless he gets an 18 on his fifth and final try, the entire scholarship will be rescinded. Finally, he understands.
Agee, on the other hand, even after taking Marshall to the State Finals, coming in third or fourth place, defying all expectations, receiving comparisons to local Chicago Bulls legend Isiah Thomas, he still fails to get his grades up, having to complete numerous rounds of summer school before finally graduating. His plans are to attended a community college, where the off campus housing places him in a home in the middle of nowhere, with the rooms constructed out of cheap particle board. It’s better than the alternative of no college, but I think even he knows he messed up and that it wasn’t all that cool to be living in such conditions, going to a community college, when he could have gone straight to Division-I college if he just tried a bit harder.
Before either leaves for college, we see their families say goodbye, and it’s in this moment that I think that even the most bigoted viewers would see that “those people” are really no different than other families. The parents want what’s best for their kids, and while they’re dealing with their own struggles, we’re left wondering how we would handle such an environment. It fills you with rage when judgment is passed so easily. The common criticism I so often hear in my hometown is “Well, if these people just tried - took loans, did well in school, went to college, then they could escape all the crime and lack of opportunity.” Aside from the racist implication, it highlights gross ignorance. “These people” are trying - hard; and whether it’s the social pressure to the remain academically careless, their own intellectual limitations, or some combination of the two, Hoop Dreams demonstrates the many challenges to overcome in these environments.
It’s so easy to pass judgment and arrive at seemingly simple solutions, having never had to deal with this level of poverty and lack of opportunity. As mentioned, I think it was this unfiltered taste of reality that made the many - white - academy members wish to shut the film down. I bet they saw this and were so overwhelmed with facing their own privilege and ignorance that it was easier to ignore these realties than to confront them. These are complex and intricate problems, extending far beyond any band aid. To think that South Side Chicago has only gotten worse, facing multiple murders per day for years, with no end in sight just goes to show little progress has been made. I’d love to provide these racist prescriptions their own version of an inner city Christmas Carol, forcing them to live in an area that’s consumed with death, drugs, and gang violence, and see how well they function. Reading the Wikipedia page, we see that many of the characters in the film, or those around them, were killed,. According to the site, “The families of both men have experienced losses since the release of the film. On Thanksgiving morning 1994, Agee's older half-brother, DeAntonio, was gunned down at Cabrini–Green. In September 2001, Gates' older brother, Curtis, 36, was shot to death in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood. Arthur's father, Bo Agee, was murdered in 2004.”
This is the real tragedy, as we’re left hoping that Gates and Agee will finally achieve their dreams. Unfortunately, neither did, though they did put the money they received from the film to good use, with Agee creating the “Hoop Dreams” Sportswear line that helps promote higher education in the underprivileged community, and Gates becoming the senior pastor at the Living Faith Community Center. In fact, in the film’s sequel “Hoop Reality” Agee mentored student Patrick Beverley who eventually did make it to the NBA as a Houston Rocket. I’m sure they would admit that their success, while not professional basketball, remains rewarding. Still, it just goes to show how rare the achievement is. There are many kids who see their escape in the form of fame and fortune. The reality is that a fraction of a fraction of 1% will ever make it, leaving others to face far grimmer realities than relying on a film’s profits to build better lives. Tens of thousands will go unnoticed, never getting that private education, college scholarship, professional career, or documentary crew to follow them around and tell their stories. They are doomed to return to the reality of a crumbling environment.
A film like this at least could at least motivate people to try and do whatever they can to provide whatever opportunity they can for those on the downside of privilege, even if it’s as simple as accepting that gross or bigoted generalizations should no longer be part of the discussion.
BELOW: Arthur visits his hero's school
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