Homelessness, Now on Screens Everywhere


PHOTO / TheGuardian.com

Written by Nathan Blackburn, Capstone Contribution

Begging on the streets for even a dime of spare change. Sporting an outfit that is tattered with enough holes, stains and dirt to make the average passerby cringe and turn away. The sign, often written in marker on cardboard, pleading for the opportunity to start a new life.

All of these images are often associated with the plight of homeless people. Most everyone has walked past a homeless person, or even a homeless family, on the streets of a city they’re visiting or even one they call home. Since homelessness has become such a visible aspect of society, it has also been portrayed multiple times in the media.

Filmmakers have centered their narratives on the struggles of a homeless individual, whether that be on the grand scale of their life or the mundane, day-to-day routine they experience. Television producers and board writers have featured arcs in television series that have featured homeless people. Depending on the area, news reports about homeless people could possibly flood the news daily, whether it is a report of the rising percentages of homelessness, or the tragedy of the death that struck a homeless person.

An example of a film that features homelessness front and center is ‘Shelter,’ a 2014 film starring Jennifer Connelly and Anthony Mackie. Connelly plays a homeless drug addict, while Mackie stars as a Nigerian immigrant struggling to find a place in America, specifically New York. The portrayal of homelessness in this film uses the ‘power of love’ troupe to help the duo overcome their circumstances and find that the grass is indeed greener on the other side.

However, what one sees on the theatre’s big screen is not always close to reality. In fact, there have been studies conducted that state that the portrayals of homelessness in films, television and the news seemed to have a race and gender inequality problem on their hands.

“After studying 150 episodes from 50 television shows, American University’s Center for Media & Social Impact have found that a disproportionate amount of television programming regarding homelessness focused on white people by 87 percent, and males by 76.1 percent,” states Monique Jones, reporting for ShadowandAct.com. “However, in reality, 40 percent of people who are homeless are Black and 39 percent are young girls and women.” 

Of course, perfection is virtually unattainable in any one portrayal of a social problem that has such personal connotations to every backstory. In this feature series, specific examples of news reports, films and television shows that showcase homelessness will be analyzed. A discussion will be opened up about what went right, what went wrong and what could possibly be taken and improved upon in future portrayals. Statistics will be provided to back up the claims as well.

With the intent of more awareness and proposed solutions, the on screen portrayals of a sensitive and very real issue in society could soon turnaround.