5 Things Hollywood Gets Wrong About Poverty in Film

5 Things Hollywood Gets Wrong About Poverty in Film

There’s a glaring disparity between real life and Hollywood’s portrayal of it. One area where filmmakers consistently miss the mark is in their depiction of poverty. More often than not, characters with limited means are shown as content, accepting of their circumstances, or even jovial about their situations. Poverty is far from a walk in the park, and it’s high time movies started reflecting that. Here are five things that Hollywood consistently gets wrong about poverty in film:

1. Poor Kids Have Impeccable Style

Despite their financial struggles, teens in movies always seem to look like they just stepped off a runway. Take Andie from “Pretty in Pink” for example. Her dad barely works, and she has a part-time job at a record store, yet she always looks like a fashion icon. Sure, she’s skilled with a needle and thread, but she didn’t create all those accessories she wears. Andie even has her own car, which anyone who didn’t attend high school in a John Hughes movie knows is far from the norm for a kid living on the poor side of town. The “Harry Potter” franchise, on the other hand, subverts this trope by having the Weasley family wear hand-me-downs and homemade fashion disasters (like Ron’s ball tuxedo). This realistic portrayal is likely due to J.K. Rowling’s firsthand experience with poverty.

2. Poverty is Just a Temporary Setback

In movies, poverty is often depicted as a temporary hurdle on the path to wealth and success. The “savior” is usually a wealthy philanthropist with a heart of gold who wants to give the plucky, intelligent protagonist a chance. In reality, however, this scenario is highly unlikely. Take the average office, for example. You can be the smartest person in the room, but the boss probably doesn’t even use the same entrance as you, let alone know you exist. In truth, poverty is often a multi-generational burden, and it takes time and perseverance to see even a slight improvement in one’s circumstances. Many talented, intelligent individuals remain poor.

3. The Cinderella Fantasy

Hollywood loves giving female characters the “Cinderella” treatment, but in real life, most people shouldn’t bank on marrying up. This only happens in movies like “Pretty Woman,” where even a street prostitute can marry into wealth. F. Scott Fitzgerald was more accurate when he wrote, “Rich girls don’t marry poor boys,” which is why Gatsby had to do whatever it took to get rich quickly (see point #2). In reality, wealthy individuals may dabble with those from lower social classes, but when it comes to settling down, they typically choose partners from their own social stratum.

4. The Glamorization of Grueling Jobs

Dick Van Dyke’s singing chimney sweep in “Mary Poppins” may seem like a jolly fellow, but in reality, dirty jobs like his are often dangerous and unpleasant. Chimney sweeps frequently died from black lung disease, were bitten by disease-carrying rats, or even got stuck in chimneys and perished there. Chim Chim Cheree? Not quite. In movies, fishermen sing shanties in the freezing rain, and maids (only young, attractive ones, of course) simply empty wastebaskets and carry towels when they’re not cracking jokes.

5. The Midnight Move Myth

“Slums of Beverly Hills” has its merits, but it also perpetuates the myth of the “midnight move” from one apartment to another. Even before the digital age, you needed references, a security deposit, and one month’s rent to secure a new place. Leaving after just one week would be pointless and a waste of money.

Honorable Mention: The Perpetually Dancing Poor

In “The Super,” the building is a nightmare, infested with rats and vermin, yet the impoverished residents just keep on dancing. In real life, these tenants would be too exhausted from working and trying to fix their living conditions to dance the night away. But Hollywood wants you to believe that the poor are always happy-go-lucky, even in the face of adversity.


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