Quick recap: This documentary follows two inner city kids from Chicago as they chase their dream of playing professional basketball.
Fun (?) fact: When Hoop Dreams failed to get a nomination for Best Documentary, it pissed Roger Ebert off. He researched the process and found that when voters viewed a movie, they would turn on a flashlight if they didn’t feel the movie had a chance. When enough flashlights were turned on, the movie was stopped. Hoop Dreams lasted only 15 minutes before it was turned off. Because of this, rules were changed and now no one will EVER have an issue with Academy voting again. EVER.
My thoughts: Oh, boy. This movie got to me, you guys. I started Hoop Dreams thinking it would be about playing basketball and maybe the dream of playing basketball- a ‘hoop dream’, if you will. And it was, of course, but it was also so much more. There are so many topics to choose from when talking about this film: poverty, race, crime, drugs, gangs and so on, and it’s easy to get lost in the message at times. What it comes down to, though, are two boys who just want to be someone. It’s as simple as you can get, and so, so powerful.
Before I go any further, I want to confess that the first thought running through my mind as the credits rolled was, ‘Please let them still be alive and happy,’ and it seems like they are. William Gates’ brother Curtis, who was featured in the film, was murdered in 2001 and Arthur Agee’s father, also featured in the film was gunned down in 2004, but the boys themselves seem successful and happy.
It amazes me the amount of dedication that went in to telling the story of William Gates and Arthur Agee. When filming started, both boys had just finished middle school, and although both of them had amazing talent, no one knew what the ending would be. In many ways, there is nothing remarkable about either story. William is scouted and ends up at St. Joseph’s High School, an expensive private school. He comes in with very low grades ( a persistent issue in the film), but has the drive to continue. His mom is a single parent and does her best, but it’s difficult. At one point in the film, William and his girlfriend have a baby, which adds another layer of complexity to an already complex situation. Add to the fact that William playing for St. Joseph was both an amazing opportunity and also a horrible decision. Being one of only a few black students, some of the games felt like more of a spectacle than just a high school kid doing what he loved. I didn’t really like the coach because it just felt like William was being used to win games for the school. On the other hand, putting him in a prestigious school opened up many doors that wouldn’t otherwise be available.
As much as I enjoyed William, it was Arthur Agee who got to me most. As a public school teacher in a low income area, I see so many kids just like Arthur: kids who have heavy stuff going on at home and try hard to not let it get to them. Kids who are so far behind and are embarrassed about it, so they hide behind their friends and try to show that they don’t care. I was especially interested in Arthur’s friendship with Shannon, the boy with a similar background who later moved in with the Agees. Both boys were low academically and goofed off a lot in class, yet it was Arthur who ultimately succeeded because of his love for basketball. I don’t want to spoil the outcomes of either boy, but I think it’s safe to say that their passion for the game took them much further than other kids in the same situation would have. We talk a lot about ‘realistic’ goals in school because we want them to choose something they can work for and see progress in. But there is something to having a crazy dream, also, and for these boys, at least, it is what kept them going.
Final review: 5/5 A must see for anyone who loves documentaries.
Up next: Paths of Glory