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The need to create a harmonious society, free of segregation and racism among other vices, has remained a thorny issue in many societies across the world. In the U.S., the attainment of a free democratic society has been the result of a struggle by notable people such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Henry D. Thoreau, and Martin Luther King among others. However, despite numerous achievements attained in  modern America out of this struggle, it is worth noting that the majority of people, especially  black Americans as well as  Hispanics have not been able to live to the expectations of the American Dream. Based on the above arguments, this paper will critically evaluate the documentary film, Hoop Dreams, giving personal reaction and the social problems affecting Arthur Agee.

Personal Reaction to the Film Hoop Dreams

The documentary film Hoop Dreams was directed by James Steve. It focuses on the story of two high school students who are black Americans from Chicago. The two teenage boys, Arthur Agee and William Gates, have been recruited by some scout from Saint Joseph High School in Illinois. This school is predominantly for the whites and has an extremely outstanding program in basketball, thus being able to have such alumni  as Isiah Thomas through making kids determined that one day they will be starring in the NBA (Joravsky, 1996).  In spite of commuting to school for a long distance, the teenagers endure difficult practices and workouts, as well as acclimatizing to the new foreign environment. As shown in the film, both Agee and Gates enormously struggle to improve their skills in athletics so that they are able to face competition in the job market. It is notable that their families celebrate their achievements, and support them when they experience economic hardships resulting from change in schooling environment (Walker, 1995).

From this film, it is evident that, a number of issues affecting the American society are well documented. Some of them include issues touching on class, race, division arising from economic and educational capabilities among other values. As argued by Carnoy (1996), the movie also helps to characterize typical lives of poor families who are usually invisible in the mass media. In normal situations, people watch notable players in basketball such as Isaiah Thomas and Michael Jordan among others on TVs, a factor that is vital for us to understand why any talented kid, no matter the family background, would wish to play in the same courts as these players someday (Carnoy, 1996).

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However, Hoop Dream is not just basketball, but it is all about the reality as well as the texture of the daily existence in American cities. In this movie, the lives of Gates and Agee are followed right from high school into college, thus making it easy for us to understand human dimensions, which are behind life in a ghetto as can be seen  behind media images. In my own opinion, it is clear that the movie encourages families to stay united despite the difficulties faced. For instance,  Arthur’s father was fighting drug problems and his family was able to stand with him, thus making him achieve his dreams. There is also the need for community to participate in daily activities of their members. For instance, the black church is deeply rooted in reality that all people have equal opportunities before the eyes of God. This concept enormously supports and encourages these two boys to fulfill their dreams. 

Generally, what emerges from this film surpasses the sympathetic portrait of these two black teenage boys towards attaining the stars (Joravsky, 1996). While still epic in scope, the movies manages to be fully intimate in details, chronicling universal methods of growing up as well as coming of age, the conflicts between brothers, spouses, best friends alongwith  sons and fathers. The movie is all about failure and success not just in the courts, but also in schools, homes, and ultimately, in the society. The movie does all these in ways in which no other movie on sports has ever done. This is because, the viewers are given an intimate view at a pursuit towards dream in basketball, while in reality its happening.

Social Problems Facing Arthur Agee

Hoop Dreams says a lot about African American life in particular and the United States society overall. This film illustrates the impact of class, differential opportunities, gender and race. The documentary shows the human sacrifices made by black American athletes trying to live their dreams amid a nightmare. In Hoop Dreams, Arthur Agee faces some social problems in trying to achieve his dream (Walker, 1995).

Poverty/Tough Home Life

Firstly, family life of Arthur was full of mishaps. His father was a drug addict hence was not able to provide for his family both emotionally and financially. As a result, Arthur’s mother, Sheila, constantly struggled to ensure the well-being of her family. She participated in training courses to become an assistant for a nurse. Sheila finds out that her grades were the highest in the class; this is one of a few moments of pure happiness in her life. Meanwhile, Arthur has been expelled from Saint Joe's. He has to go back to the neighbourhood high school. At one point, he revisits Saint Joe's and his wish to come back is obvious (Joravsky, 1996).

Arthur’s family experiences so much economic instability to the point that, at one point, the utility company has to turn off the electricity and heat in their apartment as his mother had little money. Sheila struggles against their poverty and with incredible determination when she takes a school course that would later make her an auxiliary nurse. Arthur, on the other hand, has to find a summer job at a pizza house hut after drops out of St. Joseph's due to lack of funds. The school has failed to find Arthur additional funding for the reason that Coach Pingatore no longer considers him a star material. This decision angers Arthur's parents and delivers a huge blow to Arthur's sense of worth (Walker, 1995).

Another instance that reveals Arthur’s poor background is his father’s humble supplication at the bursar’s office to get access to his son’s transcripts. In addition, Arthur’s mother celebrates her achievement in a room packed with empty folding chairs. To Arthur, sports were no longer a game. It was a desperate means to an end. He sees basketball as the only chance to get out of the ghetto (Carnoy, 1996).

Racial Discrimination

Racial discrimination is another social challenge that Arthur faces in his attempt to make good out of his talent. This differential treatment causes so many African American city ghetto children want to be sports celebrities. This way, doors of opportunity that would otherwise not be open in such a classist and racist society, become opened to them. They get right to use things that other children in their neighborhood cannot. For teens coming from families with limited resources, like Arthur, a college education is generally unaffordable with  a scholarship. Clearly, the readiest way to be noticed by the prestigious schools is through games. Arthur was admitted to the white school because of his basketball abilities. The college athletic departments of such schools usually send out scouts and recruiters to search the inner city, purposefully looking for the best talent in athletics (Joravsky, 1996).

Arthur encounters racial discrimination when he is forced out of St. Joseph's by Coach Pingatore who no longer sees his worth. Obviously, the only reason he was admitted to that school in the first place was his athletic prowess. However, when he is no longer productive is when he is expelled. This documentary speaks about the exploitation of athletes, mostly black athletes. Their athletic abilities are the only way an African American could join a top school, and without it, they would continue living in the ghetto (Carnoy, 1996).

Solutions and Its Limitations

One may feel empathy for these young men, considering all the adversities they endured as physical injuries, struggling school grades, racism and tough home lives. Education is depicted as one of the solutions to escape poverty. William’s wife talks of education as a path that will allow black women into white-collar jobs (Joravsky, 1996). Furthermore, the stars of the film have utilized the documentary’s success to advance the importance of education, and beating the odds. The only limitation to the solution offered is that most African American families are not able to offer their children  quality education owing to their poor background. As for racism, multicultural education should be introduced to enable students from all racial groups’ value each other (Carnoy, 1996).

Conclusion

The final scene of the film is heart-breaking. Even though both teens are very talented, their dreams are unlikely to be realized. Everyone has aspirations in their life. With no aspirations, there is nothing to hope for in life. With the hard ghetto upbringing and insulting behaviour that were evident in Arthur’s and William's life, these tests and tribulations only inspired the boys to want to accomplish their dreams; to overcome hardships and have a successful life they earned themselves. Although the dreams of Arthur and William were not fully rewarded, they did take part in college basketball. Eventually, they had to settle for college basketball, which was their reality instead of NBA, which was their dream. With William's bad knee and Arthur's struggling grades, it was the best that they were going to do and, as the film ends, both men appear to have accepted this reality. William realizes his education was the path he desired to take and Arthur is not fully sure of the activities he wants to pursue in his life.

References

  1. Carnoy, M. (1996). Faded dreams: The politics and economics of race in America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Joravsky, B. (1996). Hoop Dreams: True story of Hardship and Triumph. New York: HarperCollins.
  3. Rinaldi, R. M. (1995). Hoop Dreams. Albany NY Times Union , 1.
  4. Walker, P. R. (1995). Hoop dreams. Turner Pub.

 

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