Movie Review: Freedom Writers

Freedom Writers

A war is going on in Long beach. A war between races- whites, blacks, latinos, asians… all killing each other daily to “protect their own” like their parents before them. Most however, don’t expect to live to the age of 18. They go to high school, because they are made to do so. It is a place for them to be babysat for the day, until the bell rings and they can go back to the streets and fighting the war for respect.

Until that is, a brand new english teacher walks into the school determined to change the mindset of these students. The first week- prompted by a racist sketch  she lectures them not on english, literature, or grammar. But on their lives, and so begins an unorthodox, yet memorable class we come to know as “The Freedom Writers”.

Things I Liked

Erin has a deep love and concern for the students in the school where she teaches. When they treat her like dirt, she responds not like the others- being a babysitter. She engages them and invest her time, money, and energy into making school something worth caring about. Not because School does something for them, but because they are leaving the lifestyle they are in to get to a better place.

The students also, after some persevering persistence from Erin, begin to take ownership of their own lives. They set aside different colors of skin and begin to work together in term of education, but also personally. When they decide they want a foreign historical figure t0 come to their school and speak, they create fundraisers and do so. They join together as a class and accomplish great things, completely dismissing their previous presupposed notions of racial segregation.

We see from the board of education one woman has no heart at all for the education, but rather for the promotion of the teachers. She is cold and flippant toward the students and won’t even let them use new books for fear of them getting destroyed. When confronted about this she criticizes Erin’s teaching style of loose schedules, trips, and family style classes. She says “we have ten million people to get educated, this is not a universal solution to achieve these means.” What she misses completely, yet we are shown, is the gross inadequacy of our current educational system.

One thing that really got me was the showing the gang members and such truly are people just like the rest of us, and they deal with their problems with violence and fighting. It is the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. We see why they live the way they do, but instead of going all psychological and exuding it because of their past- they are challenged to change for the their own success and to stop living in futility.

We see these changes in great ways. One guy goes back to help and live with his family. A girl takes a stand which endangers her life, but is the right thing to do. A guy stoops selling drugs off the street. A girl forgives a  race of people and becomes friends with them… The list goes on.

Things I Didn’t Like

Through the course of the teaching, Erin works long and late hours, she takes on two more jobs to pay for her job, and this results in a broken relationship with her husband (who is still trying to find himself). It results in a sad end for both. “Why can’t you just stand by and support me like a wife would?!” Erin asks in desperation. Her husband replies “I’m not your wife… I wish there was a better way to say it.

As the students come from gangs, we hear every curse word in the book, as well as slang and sexual jargon. There is one F- word, and many of the other ones. God’s name is used in vain a few times. There are easily 50+ expletives.

We see flashbacks to student’s past violent lives. A man is shot in the chest, women are beaten profusely, and we see a young kid shot as well. You can tell the filmmakers kept this intentionally mild, and in no way went as far as they could. This is still present nonetheless, and as such is worth mentioning.

Closing Thoughts

Even an ordinary secretary or a housewife or a teenager can, within their own small ways, turn on a small light in a dark room.
~Miep Giles~

Based on a true story, Freedom Writers touches on a time back in the early 1990s and focuses in on one teacher’s efforts to influence the students in her class to live a better life. Incredibly, in real life, it worked.

It would be one thing to make a fictional account of gang students changing for the better, but to take a story of something like this actually happening, and showing it on film? That’s powerful. It is amazing to see what one leader can do to influence others both for good, and for bad. The bad we are told of in this film is Hitler. Through the Holocaust he led millions to believe in lies and commit atrocities one cannot even fathom. There good, is shown through Ms. G, or Erin Gruwell. She invests time into these young adults, and we see once the teens understand she cares about them- truly believes in them… Awesome things happen.

This is a profound lesson we can, and should learn from. It only takes the investment of one person into another’s life to change it for the better or worse. When we interact with someone, we influence them positively or negatively. Are we going to influence for the better? Or for the worse?

This movie is a well written and well composed drama which addresses the importance of good role models and personal investment. It shows the insensitive folly of the educational system in place, and also humanizes a world which many of us have never seen. The unfortunate part of this, is through the teaching of this class, Erin’s marriage is lost. We also hear easily over fifty curse words from the streets and students.

What I wound up walking away with though, was not only an renewed appreciation for teachers who do invest their being into their students. But moreso the calling for young adults to step up and take ownership of their lives. So yes Props definitely go to Erin for pushing students to be better. The true credit goes to the students who decided to stop living in their wars and path of ruin, and turn it around because they took responsibility for themselves. That’s what made them Freedom Writers.

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
~1 Timothy 4:12~

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