A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Poverty can crush the spirit, but family can help support people through difficult times. Hard work and listening to experts and coaches don't always get you what you want. Life is not fair. Talent does not always rise to the top. Sometimes bad luck ruins everything. Drug use is destructive. Additional themes include perseverance and teamwork.
Positive Role Models
William and Arthur both dream of NBA careers, but life takes them elsewhere. Both reevaluate the role of basketball in their lives as they begin to understand how few talented players make it to the NBA. Spoiler alert: Disappointed, they each replace the goal of reaching the NBA with the goal of achieving a college education. Their parents do their best under the most difficult circumstances to be loving and supportive. A suburban private high school reneges on its scholarship when a player doesn't meet expectations, then holds his records hostage for the $1,800 in back tuition the unemployed parents can't afford.
Violence & Scariness
A character describes being mugged, and the danger of living in the ghetto is a theme throughout. Knee surgery is shown. The usual scuffles on a basketball court during a game are shown.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
William fathers a child before he graduates from high school. Teen sexuality is discussed in terms of its consequences.
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Locker-room profanity. Some strong language from basketball coaches, such as "bulls--t," and a scene where one of the characters is listening to music with particularly strong lyrics.
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Products & Purchases
The process of scouting and recruiting talented young basketball players, from as early as age 12, is depicted in terms of economic advantage -- most especially to the high schools and colleges that recruit and give scholarships and secondarily to the striving players who dream of wealth, fame, glory, and a route out of the ghetto. Brand-name sports shoes and athletic gear are seen as overpriced and desired by those who can't afford it.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Drug use by family members and friends is discussed, always in terms of its consequences. Drug-dealing neighborhoods are shown. Bo is a crack cocaine addict who eventually gets clean.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Hoop Dreams is a powerful documentary that provides an excellent way for families to talk about big issues like race and class in urban America, long-term goals, and teen sex and drug use. Almost three hours long, it features lots of intense discussion by two young men about their experiences with parental separation and divorce, extreme poverty, sport-related injuries, urban blight and violence, and teen pregnancy, all while they're trying to earn college basketball scholarships. There's some strong language in the locker room and from basketball coaches, including "bulls--t," as well as a scene in which one of the characters listens to music with particularly strong lyrics. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This film's greatest strength is that it is pragmatic before it is hopeful. James is careful to highlight the many obstacles standing in Gates and Agee's way: from corner drug dealers to test scores, from tuition payments at ritzy private schools to parental desertion. Rather than providing viewers with a candy-coated confection of "local boy makes good," Hoop Dreams illustrates how nearly impossible it is for such a story to even take place -- and that frequently it's a result of things completely out of the boys' control. The result is a searing portrait of inner-city life in America, and the extraordinary, downright unfair expectations placed on the shoulders of many young African-American athletes.
Hoop Dreams painstakingly tempers the romanticism characteristic high school athletes by paying special attention to the many roadblocks that stand in the way of Gates and Agee's dreams. This movie provides an excellent way for families to talk about issues such as race and class in urban America, long-term goals, teen sex and drug use, and getting good grades.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.