Social realism is an artistic movement which first started in the 1930s during the Great Depression. It was seen in art, books and film. Social realism rejects the romanticized view of life and instead truthfully shows poverty, discrimination, and the difficult life of the working class. Social realism discards superstition and mysticism, both of which are often featured in other films to distract people from the hopelessness of their situation.
Social Realism often focuses on critical issues in a society which tend to be denied, ignored, or covered up by mainstream media and politicians. By showing a truthful portrait, it also suggests a political message, that the money hoarded by the rich should be redistributed, and that no person should be forced to live in poverty.
Among the artists whose styles represented social realism were Edward Hopper and Walker Evans.
Most of the Social Realism work became popular before the anti-communist movement of the late 1940s and 1950s. The fact is that the Social Realism movement reflected the horrendous burdens placed onto most working people in this country, living in severe poverty without any hope, being watched over by the ultra-rich living in penthouses and spending their lives being self-indulgent.
By the late 1940s, any book or movie, any politician or social movement which called attention to poverty, injustice and discrimination, was attacked as being communistic, and people who spoke of such things would be hounded by the FBI, thrown out of work, exiled in their communities. The Social Realism movement was ended by the nationalistic patriotism of World War II, but the final nail was put in the coffin by the post-war anti-communist hysteria. Best not to speak of things like poverty, injustice, prejudice, inequality, and corruption.
In film, many of the movies of the 1930s reflect this style including Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight. The Grapes of Wrath, both the book and the film, are typical of Social Realism of the time.
One of the best of the Social Realism movies was Dead End. It starred Humphrey Bogart, Joel McCrea, Silvia Sidney, Claire Trevor, Marjorie Main, and the Dead End Kids. This movie takes place on the east side of Manhattan where the ultra-wealthy live in mansions, and the poor survive in the streets below, turning to crime, prostitution and despair. No hope, no opportunity, nowhere to go.