Hoop Dreams

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Hoop Dreams Many authors/film makers realize that sometimes, in order to make a point, an idea is best conveyed through a stirring of the audience’s pathos, or feelings. An audience whose emotions have been affected is more likely to remember a message and take it into consideration. Hoop Dreams, a documentary by Steve James, is an apt example that employs heavy use of pathos in order to present its theme. The documentary follows two boys through their high school years in Chicago as they pursue their life dreams of becoming two players in the NBA.

It is hard not to become engaged in the film as the boys must overcome many hurdles in order to work towards their dream. The filmmakers strive to stir the emotions of the audience by giving much attention to the boys’ families, by focusing on the many hardships the two boys and their families must endure, and by using juxtaposition throughout the film, all of which are facilitated by relying on key elements of narrative. Focusing on the families of the two boys allows the audience to sense how these “hoop dreams” have become family affair, which makes them that much more important.

These dreams are no longer your typical children’s dreams. Instead, they are goals that are full heartedly supported by the two boys’ families, which each household rooting for, and in some cases, depending on, the two boys to achieve their dream. For example: there are two persons introduced to the audience in the film that depend on the boys reaching the NBA in order for them to see part of their past dreams reached. Curtis Gates, William’s brother, and Bo Agee, Arthur’s father, both hope to see the boys “make it big” in the NBA, as both of them were skilled basketball players in their younger years.

However, due to Curtis’ stubborn demeanor and Bo’s having two children, neither of them were able to pursue their dream. Also, the two families depend on the young boys career in order to move their life forward out of the current despair they live in. The audience really becomes acquainted with the families, which is done easily through the use of first witness accounts in the narrative. The filmmakers decision to tell the narrative primarily through first person accounts in stead of voice over narrative allows the audience to have a greater feeling of empathy for the family.

The filmmakers also give much attention to the physical, mental, and financial struggles the boys and their families must work through. William has a good first two years on the basketball court at St. Joseph’s, but things go downhill after he injures his leg. Also, Arthur must travel three hours a day in order to reach school on time, a burden that surely stands out to the audience. The fact that a fourteen year old boy is willing to travel three hours a day in order to go to a school that may or may not be the key to his success, the key to elevate his family out of the financial hole they are in, is certainly admirable.

But the two boys must also endure mental and emotion problems. William begins to stress over basketball, and he makes the comment that he never plays basketball for fun anymore; it has become a job instead, which may be the crux of the entire film. The boys, as well as their families, must come to the realization that they are seen as objects, merchandise, or tickets to success, which can be seen from the very beginning when Earl Smith scouts out the two boys. Arthur’s family realizes this after Arthur is dismissed from St. Joseph’s due to the lack of finances to pay for this tuition.

William is recognized for his talent and is supported by Patricia Weir, the president of Brittanica Encyclopedia. However, Arthur did not exhibit as much talent his first year in basketball, and his tuition was not paid for entirely. But that was not the only source of the boys’ problems. Arthur had to deal with his father, who became addicted to cocaine, leaving, which forced his mother to take care of a large family. There is one very touching moment in the film when Arthur’s mother finally receives her nurse accreditation from the community college.

It is a heart wrenching scene in which she breaks down and cries and becomes so thankful for what she has achieved. Also worth mentioning is the fact that all of these events are being narrated chronologically. The audience literally watches the boys grow up and confront these problems, which increases the familiarity between the audience and the protagonists of the film. As a result, the audience is much more empathetic to the troubles the boys must endure. Juxtaposition is a tool used frequently in the narrative of Hoop Dreams, and its use is very effective in affecting the audience’s pathos.

Juxtaposition can be seen in the very beginning of the film as images of the dilapidated town the boys live in are displayed next to grand images of NBA stars, representing the current status of the boys and the dream they hope to reach. This is the first impression the audience receives of the boys’ social status. Also, the two boys themselves seem to be juxtaposed throughout the film. They both attend St. Joseph’s in the beginning with the same hopes and desires, but from that point onward the boys are contrasted. William excels in academics, while Arthur does not.

William excels in basketball during his freshman and sophomore years, while Arthur fails to stand out. William is allowed to remain at St. Joseph’s, while Arthur is forced to leave. All of these juxtapositions allow the audience to see how two boys that begin with practically the same goals can end up in two totally different positions, which forces the audience to think. It begs the question: “Would Arthur have been allowed to stay at St. Joseph’s had he displayed more talent in basketball, and if so, would his grades have improved, allowing him to get into a good college? If used correctly, narrative can be very successful at appealing to an audience’s pathos. By employing different narrative tactics such as first witness accounts, juxtaposition, and order of series of events, James creates a film that is full of emotion and bound to resound with audiences. By the end of the film the viewer feels like he/she knows the family well and has a good idea of what the family has gone through, as well as the boys. The audience is rooting for the two boys in the film because they realize that the protagonists are real people with real problems, and they deserve to achieve their dream just as much as anyone else.

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Hoop Dreams. (2017, Sep 11). Retrieved July 17, 2024 , from

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