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Changing the Narrative: Depictions of Homelessness in Film and TV

Written by Julie Vo. Edited by Sumaiya Iqbal.


Welcome back to the Canadian Courage Project blog! Thank you for joining us and taking action to become a changemaker in your community. 




“Everything I learned I learned from the movies.” ― Audrey Hepburn


Often, without our conscious awareness, movies and shows can have a profound influence over our lives, molding our perceptions and attitudes in ways we may not even realize. Unfortunately, this influence sometimes breeds misconceptions, especially when it comes to sensitive social issues like homelessness.


In the realm of entertainment, the portrayal of homelessness often dances between stark realism and romanticized narratives, shedding light on a complex societal issue that affects millions worldwide. One of the most common misconceptions about homelessness is the belief that it stems from poor choices or personal irresponsibility. However, there are systemic factors that need to be recognized. This includes a lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, and inadequate access to healthcare. Individuals facing homelessness have also been portrayed as criminals or inherently dangerous in films/tv shows — when in reality, they are victims of societal neglect and economic disparities. This misconception perpetuates fear and stigma, leading to policies that criminalize homelessness rather than addressing its root causes.


From gritty dramas to heartwarming tales of resilience, the silver screen has offered various perspectives on homelessness, each with its own impact and interpretation. One notable example is the 2014 film "The Pursuit of Happyness," starring Will Smith. This biographical drama follows the journey of Chris Gardner, a struggling salesman who becomes homeless with his young son. The film captures the harsh realities faced by those experiencing homelessness while also emphasizing the power of determination and hope.



On the other end of the spectrum lies the critically acclaimed TV series "Shameless." Set in Chicago, this dark comedy-drama delves into the chaotic lives of the Gallagher family, who often teeter on the brink of homelessness due to their dysfunctional dynamics and financial struggles. Through its portrayal of poverty and its consequences, "Shameless" offers a gritty, yet humanizing perspective on homelessness rarely seen on TV.



However, not all depictions of homelessness are grounded in realism. Some films opt for a more idealized portrayal, blurring the lines between fantasy and harsh truth. Take Disney's animated feature "The Princess and the Frog" as an example. While primarily a fairy tale, the film subtly touches upon the issue of homelessness through the character of Tiana's friend, Ray the firefly, who reminisces about his "Evangeline," the Evening Star, as his guiding light in times of hardship. Though whimsical in nature, this portrayal highlights the universal human experience of seeking solace and belonging, even in the darkest of times.



Ultimately, it is through these varied narratives that we can foster empathy, raise awareness, and inspire action towards addressing homelessness in our communities. The Canadian Courage Project aims to do just that. With our community initiatives, we try to support youth-facing structural vulnerabilities in the GTA and their animal companions through organizing and facilitating workshops, community pantries, wellness departure kits, and community libraries. 


Thank you so much for joining us on the Canadian Courage Project blog! Stay tuned for future updates and please remember to sign up for our mailing list for future change-making opportunities. 


Sources

Choirudin, F. M., & Nugroho, A. (2022). Homelessness by Chris Gartner In The Pursuit Of Happiness Movie: Individual Psychological Approach. 


Hrast, M. F. (2008). Media representations of homelessness and the link to (effective) policies: The case of Slovenia. European Journal of Homelessness _ Volume.


Knight, A. L. (2019). Through the Looking Glass: The Perpetuation of Homelessness Through Awareness Media.


Truong, S. V. (2012). " Please Do Not Feed the Homeless:" The Role of Stereotyping and Media Framing on the Criminalization of Homelessness (Doctoral dissertation, UC Santa Cruz).



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