- Movie Rating -

Streetwise (1985)

| April 19, 1985

Streetwise is a documentary about kids living on the streets, some of whom were abused, some were abducted, some are the products of homes with many problems and few values.  You walk into this film with great empathy and you walk out with a whole lot more because you find yourself constantly comparing their experience with your own.  It makes you feel lucky for what you have.

All through the movie, as I met and listened to several disaffected young people who live on the streets, sell drugs, sell their bodies, I thought of my own teenage years.  I thought of my own parents who were doting, fussy, always concerned about my education, my behavior, my associations and how and where I spent my free time.  I may have complained then but the stability of that environment really stands out when I see kids like DeWayne – whom we meet in the film – who visits his father in prison and gets a lecture on smoking and on making better choices.  I imagine the alternative universe in which my house wasn’t so stable, that my parents were self-involved and didn’t really care or that I had to visit my father in prison.  Just one slight, one blind eye, one action and I easily could have been in their circumstances.  It really hit home later in the film when we attend DeWayne’s funeral.

What surprised me about Streetwise was that many of the kids are still talking to their parents.  When I understood that this was a movie about homeless children, I assumed that the parents were either lost, unknown, distant or dead.  I was surprised by one interview with a young girl who was approached by her mother about the fact that she worked as a prostitute.  You don’t think about a girl living at home getting into prostitution.  That’s a hard piece of information to process.  So too is another girl who tries to talk to her mother who is too busy drinking to listen.

What comes of the film is not only empathy but a surprising look at how they live.  Yes, they make a living by begging and by turning tricks but there is a community that they seem to cling to.  They live in abandoned buildings and eat food out of trash cans.  How they know that the food isn’t bad is an even bigger surprise.  The kids are as resourceful as they can be.  They are young, very young, some as young as 13 or 14.  You can see the emotional wounds in their eyes.

Streetwise is a film that I thought about long after it was over.  I thought about the look in one girl’s eyes as she talked about her mother.  I thought about DeWayne whose father really did care despite his prison sentence.  I thought about what I might do in their place.  I imagined how resourceful these kids were under the circumstances, and it hit me that if things were better, they could do pretty much anything.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1985) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary