The Pursuit of Happyness is a 2006 American biographical film directed by Gabriele Muccino. It is a classic rags-to-riches story that is based on the true life story of Christopher Gardner, a self-made millionaire who rose from poverty and homelessness to achieve great success in life. Gardner catapulted himself from 1980s poverty through his skills with a Rubic’s cube, mathematics, ease with people, and a grade of 100 on a six-month broker internship program exam, to fabulous wealth in 2006 as entrepreneur CEO of his own Chicago brokerage firm, Gardner Rich & Co. However, during his early days, when he struggles to make ends meet his wife deserts him, buckling under the strain of financial pressure. Without money, Chris and his son are evicted from their apartment and forced to sleep in shelters, bus stations, public bathrooms or wherever they can find refuge for the night. Saddled with their meager belongings, they line up at the Glide Memorial Church on a daily basis in an effort to secure accommodations for the night. Sometimes they succeed, other times they literally are left out in the cold. The social problem of homelessness is highlighted in the movie.
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Homelessness is a social problem that affects poor people. The police are forced to respond to this issue of homelessness but there are no policies for the police to effectively tackle this social issue (Vissing 121). Local governments frequently harbor hostility towards homeless individuals and develop local laws that affect them adversely. Law restricting zoning, where one can sleep, anti-loitering and anti-begging ordinances, and unequal enforcement of the law are not common. A homeless lifestyle promotes risk for every aspect of a child’s life. Contributing factors to homelessness are poverty, unemployment and racism. In its 2006 study of homelessness’ root causes, the Western Regional Advocacy Project’s report “Without Housing” found that it is not correct to rely on biographical factors to explain the rise of homelessness in the 1980s. Systemic changes that happened in society during the late 1970s and early 1980s allowed “many people to fall through the social safety net and end up living and dying in our streets”.
In this movie, the time frame and reason for homelessness are set very early. The time is established as the 1980s when Gardner is shown sitting before a TV set from which Ronald Reagan addresses the nation about tightening the national budget. In a section entitled “The Dismantling of Federal Affordable Housing Programs,” WRAP’s charts (Western Regional Advocacy Project) show that from the 1980s to the 2000 Bush administration subsidized housing were not sufficiently provided by the government. Facts show that new construction of HUD subsidized housing units fell from 125,000 yearly to below 2,500 in 1982 and never rose above that level again. Existing housing stock thinned by attrition and other causes from above 250,000 in 1979 to below 25,000 in 2004 (Harvey 1). The report concludes that the cutbacks in federal funding of affordable housing were the main cause contributing to the emergence of the social problem of homelessness in the 1980s.
During this period, millions of single adults, families, and youth found themselves out on the streets and homeless for the first time in decades. Moreover, during this period, the Federal government also stopped the construction of new affordable rural housing. Under-funded local homeless programs and federally subsidized 10-year plans have only served to perpetuate negative homeless stereotypes and homelessness itself (Harvey 1). However, the cause of today’s homelessness is mainly due to overpopulation. There are too many people and too few affordable housing units. The problem is most likely to be faced by domestic violence victims, and immigrants are low-wage earners like Gardner before brokerage school who make too little for rent. According to the WRAP report, the fastest growing group of un-housed people was families with children. Parents struggled to stay together, sometimes losing the fight. This is portrayed well in the movie.
The film implied that, an individual, through his courage, hard work and never-say-die spirit can challenge powerful systemic forces that push him into homelessness and succeed. While this can be a motivating factor on one hand, it also devalues the homeless individual in a subtle kind of way. Every homeless individual, after seeing this movie, is made to feel that he must dig himself out of the homeless situation or he is a failed human being.
The issue of homelessness is aggravated when many politicians, government officials, community agencies, corporate interests, and journalists choose to perceive the homeless people as the main contributing factor in the issue of homelessness and see them as losers, addicts, crazy, lazy, misfits (Harvey 1). This assumption has lead to negative public stereotypes of homeless people. The entire homeless population is stereotyped in the public mind as being slothful, too lazy to work, criminal in nature, too drugged, or too mentally defective to be employable. The movie reinforces such negative stereotypes of homeless people. A wispy-haired homeless man is shown running around carrying Chris’ stolen bone density scanner believing it a time machine back to the ’60s reinforcing the stereotype that all homeless people are mentally ill.
The Federal government prioritizes the funding of military activities over housing. This has to change in order to counter the problem of homelessness. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds that quality education, economic security, health care and housing are essential human rights. This needs to be kept in mind while resolving the crisis of homelessness in the United States. Eradication of homelessness needs a deep commitment as showcased by the character of Chris Gardner in the movie. Chris Gardner observes at the movie’s start that Thomas Jefferson was right when he said that “Though every American was endowed by the Creator with “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” individuals lived most of the time in pursuit, rarely attaining the goal”. The basic need for housing should be met before taking up bigger issues of security and freedom in the pursuit of happiness.
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Vissing, Marie Yvonne (1996). Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind: Homeless Children and Families in Small-Town America. University Press of Kentucky.
Harvey, Carol (2007). “The Pursuit of Happyness:” Housing is a Human Right. BeyondChron. Web.
The Pursuit of Happyness: Movie directed by Gabriele Muccino. 2006.