Steve James' Hoop Dreams, about two Chicago inner-city youths struggling to become professional basketball players, was one of the best-reviewed movies of 1994. In fact, there were many who believed the film would become the first documentary to be included in the Academy's Best Picture shortlist.
It wasn't. Nor could Hoop Dreams be found among the nominees in the Best Documentary Feature category.
Newsday's John Anderson labeled the omission a “singularly unspeakable outrage,” while the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan wrote that if the documentary committee members “knew the meaning of the word shame they would now be making arrangements for mass suicides.”
“According to one shocked insider, in the committee's prescoring discussion one voter cautioned that if Hoop Dreams were nominated, it would surely win. He appealed to his fellow members to preserve other films' chances of winning the Oscar by denying Hoop Dreams a nomination altogether.
“When balloting time came, at least two other attendees joined the anti-Hoop Dreams speaker. According to the source, those scorers together shot down Hoop Dreams by giving it the lowest possible score, a 4. Others on the committee gave the film top scores, but to no avail.”
“Why the animosity toward Hoop Dreams?” inquired Carl Bromley in his 2001 piece “While the Academy Slept” for The Nation.
“Many of the committee members at the time considered documentary the real weakling in the cinema litter,” Adelson responded. “They had a patronizing, paternalistic attitude toward the form: Documentaries are never seen by anyone until the [A]cademy shines their light on it and gives the poor weakling sustenance. There was a sense of mission. They promoted films they thought the public needed. And they felt threatened by an already successful film.”
Turan/Anderson quotes: Inside Oscar by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona