Ignorance: lack of knowledge or education. Ignorance (and the hatred it give birth to) is at the root of racism and bigotry and the source of so much human strife and suffering. In the case of The Freedom Writers (2007) ignorance led to misconceptions, lack of understanding and condemnation of a group of (colored) kids no one wanted to teach. And ignorance led the children themselves to mistrust everything and everyone around them. But in the end knowledge and understanding, tolerance and acceptance, and the selflessness of one teacher who believed in them tempered ignorance enough for them to succeed.
Directed by Richard LaGravenese The Freedom Writers chronicles the (true) story of then 23-year-old idealistic Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank P.S. I Love You, The Reaping, The Affair of the Necklace), and the group of inner-city students she guided and taught for four years at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, CA. Erin Gruwell was a first year (student) teacher when she started teaching freshman English to an integrated class of students who had nothing but hatred and distain for each other. And that hatred and distain was matched by the teachers who should know better.
Deploying unorthodox teaching methodsmuch to the consternation of her department head Margaret Campbell (Imelda Staunton)Erin gets through to the children and they begin not only to learn, but to understand that their particular situation is not unique, that their fellow students have similar stories to tell. And through that understanding ignorance fades and true learning takes place.
The Freedom Writers gets its name from the book the students put together based on the diaries Ms. Gruwell had the student keep. The book called The Freedom Writers Diarya New York Times Best Sellerwas published in 1999 chronicles the teens thoughts, lives, fears, and dreams.
The movie is inspirational and shines a light on the many factors can and do affect learning in American schools. Erin through her selflessness has something to teach all of us about intolerance and pre-conceived notions and or perceptions about people based on skin color and or ethnic background. She taught her students what we should all teach our children; that we all have baggage, it how we choose to carry it that will dictate your success or failure in life. Brilliant!
Hillary Swank did an excellent job as the traditionally educated prim and proper idealist in a smart suit and pearls; she is utterly convincing as a smart, square, but clearly naïve White woman who initially struggles to reach and control, let alone teach and gain, the respect of her diverse class of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians one (token) White kid.
Where does one of Gruwells background find common ground with students who might be packing pistols & knifes, wear electronic ankle monitors, live in virtual war zones, and have seen many of their friends and family fall victim to random acts of senseless violence? By pointing out that they are not alone and that their experiences as bad as they are not unique enough to prevent them from learning and achieving more.
The other actors did a fine job as well, especially April Hernandez (Eva Benitez) the young Hispanic whose story was followed closely.
Were the embellishments sprinkled throughout the story? No doubt there were, but this is a movie and in addition to telling the story it has to entertain. And The Freedom Writers is entertaining and pleasantly uplifting.
Of course this territory has been before by a myriad of films, including To Sir, With Love (1967), Stand and Deliver (1988), Dead Poets Society (1989), Dangerous Minds (1995), and Mr. Hollands Opus (1995), but one can never have enough movies about uplifting human drama. And The Freedom Writers is worthwhile because it tells a true story thats well worth telling, because it is (mostly) honest, and because the delightful Ms. Swank and company have done it so well.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
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