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By Stina Chyn | October 25, 2004

“To me, waking up here is like sleeping by a swamp. You know you sleep in some dirt and in some mud, and you can’t, you know, you can’t do nothing about it.” These words are spoken by Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell (also known as Waliy Abdur Rahim), the subject of Michael Skolnik and William O’Neill’s documentary “Hooked: the Legend of Demetrius ‘Hook’ Mitchell.” Standing just five feet and nine inches, Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell” was an incredible jumper and a playground legend in Oakland, California. The documentary begins with Gary Payton of the LA Lakers saying, “he was better than everybody.” NBA stars Jason Kidd, Antonio Davis, Brian Shaw, and Drew Gooden also speak volumes of adulation of this phenomenally talented basketball player. Portions of the audio are juxtaposed with slow-motion footage of a guy with short braids and wearing a light blue basketball uniform leaping over people and dunking basketballs into a hoop. Immediately, the viewer is mesmerized. Looking carefully at the details of the sequence, one notices that the spotlighted individual and the crowd gathered around him are enclosed by high walls. Furthermore, the men in the crowd are all wearing clothes similar in color and design. These men are not hanging out in an ordinary b-ball court—they are inmates at a California state correctional facility.

As documented in “Hooked,” Demetrius’s story serves as an excellent testament to the quotidian and nearly clichéd idea that one should stay in school and not do drugs. This film is essentially about survival but Skolnik and O’Neill tell the story so fluidly and effectively that Hook easily outshines any other account of self-improvement you may have heard. “Hooked” is especially inspiring and engrossing because of its structure. Rather than introduce and acquaint the viewer with Hook’s life chronologically (childhood, teenage years, present day), the filmmakers start with who and where Hook is during the time of filming and more or less go backwards in time. From the first frame, Hook is portrayed in a very human light. His talent for basketball is exhibited, his friends praise him, and his cool demeanor inclines the audience to forget that he is in prison. Setting up the documentary in this fashion, Skolnik and O’Neill leave the viewer wondering what Hook did to be, as Payton comments, “one of the best basketball players never to make it to the NBA.” Furthermore, by presenting Hook in his current surroundings, the filmmakers ensure that the audience warms to and views him as a person rather than a prisoner. After spending an hour with Hook, he is no longer an immensely gifted guy who messed up or even a prison inmate biding his time. Instead, Hook becomes a man constantly trying to better himself. Excellently paced, edited, and shot, “Hooked” will do to anyone exactly what its title suggests.

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