IMDB Rating: 7.5/ 10
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
This film is based on the book The Freedom Writers Diary by teacher Erin Gruwell, set in Long Beach, California. Facing the aftermath of the Los Angeles Riots, a young and dedicated teacher, Erin Gruwell (Hillary Swank) is given a class of racially- divided students that consists of Cambodian refugees, juvenile, and also “at-risk” teenagers deemed incapable of learning. Instead of packing up her bags and cowering out, Gruwell helps these kids through freshman and sophomore years and up to senior class, being an inspiration to them, giving them hope to help them graduate out of high school and get a college education, many being the first from their families.
What I liked most about the film is how real it is as it is based on true stories and real-life events. We often fail to appreciate the normality that we have been blessed with and this film successfully depicts the racism and struggles that minority groups in America during the late 1900 into the early 2000s. It frightens me to think that news about white police officers shooting black people for no apparent reason i.e. the one that initiated the black lives matter campaign was something common in Los Angeles just a few years ago. A quote from the film that I particularly remember is “justice in court does not mean that the bad guys get sent into prison, it simply mean that someone has to pay for the crime” and a sense of realization knocked me over as I thought about all the times that innocent lives suffer at the expanse of the crime that they did not commit.
Besides Gruwell’s character, another character that really inspired me is Eva Benitez (April Lee Hernandez). Forced to decide between two options by her Probation Officer between school and boot camp, this hard on the edges Latino opts for school and was assigned to Gruwell’s English Class, room 203. Eva is the narrator for most part of the film and her story growing up is certainly heart-breaking for me. Her father was an innocent man convicted for a crime he never commit, his arrestment was justified by the white police officers just because he was respected and influential In the Latino community in that neighborhood. This unfortunate incident is the primary reason behind Eva’s undying hatred towards white people and in one of Gruwell’s classes, Eva shouted with rage and apparent certainty her abhorrent by saying, “I hate white people at sight!” I can understand her pain and loss and what inspired me the most Erin Gruwell shaped Eva into becoming a better student and a better person as a whole. In one of the crucial scenes in the film is when Eva testified against her own people –Paco, her Latino boyfriend- for murder. Although she knew that she was going to face undesirable consequences: putting her life at risk, disapproval from her own family members and many more, she knew she was doing the right thing by telling the truth at court deemed as betrayal by her people, rather than sending an innocent man to prison.
The film also discusses the struggle that our educators face in getting support from the administrator and education board in terms of resources and funding. In the film, Gruwell is facing countless challenges in teaching her class granted with the limited resource that she can access. When she confronts her Head Department to seek help, she was dismissed by a cold and unhelpful superior, telling her off by saying that Gruwell should focus on only instilling “discipline and obedience” in these kids rather than be overly ambitious. Although faced with these adversities, Gruwell persists on by taking on two part-time jobs: one as a hotel concierge and another as a salesperson at a department store. These sacrifices that she have made are just a few examples among many, all the hard-earned money was spent on buying books for the class and field trips.
I also learnt that all good things come with a cost and in this case, it was Gruwell’s own marriage. With the extra work load and additional hours spent in the classroom, Gruwell’s relationship with her husband Scott Casey (Patrick Dempsey) is inevitably put to the test. What bothered me most is not the fact that Scott divorced Erin but his lacking support towards her teaching career. In one pivotal scene was when Gruwell came home late (as usual) from work to find her husband at the kitchen table with his bags packed and a wine bottle opened. He explained his distress by saying that this marriage has turned into something that he did not initially agreed to (indicating Erin’s long work hours) and when Gruwell asked him why can’t he support her the way wives support their husbands. Scott ungracefully responded to that by saying “I don’t want to be your wife” I came to the realization that sometimes in life, you just have to lose some things in order to gain other things and even though Gruwell’s marriage had ended, she continued to help her class with an unbroken spirit, as if her happiness was not sacrificed at the expanse of these kids because the underlying truth is that her happiness is in these kids, each and every one of them.
On an end note, this film discusses on a lot of important issues relating on racism, equality and segregation. With that itself makes the film anything but unremarkable.
As always thank you for reading. x,H