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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
While based on a true story in which "at-risk" students of color learn to value their self worth and their futures with the help of an idealistic young white teacher, the movie also clearly falls into the "white savior narrative." That said, students find ways to discover their inner strength and a way to express themselves by writing in their journals, and develop an understanding of a world beyond their neighborhoods through reading, writing, and through meeting with Holocaust survivors.
Positive Role Models
Lead character is an idealistic teacher determined to reach the "at-risk" students she teaches. She helps to foster a community in the class, one that goes beyond the racial tensions and difficult home lives many of the students face outside the classroom. As a result of the work in her classroom, in real life, the student journal writing led to the publication of "The Freedom Writers Diary," and the creation of the Freedom Writers Foundation. At the same time, this movie is part of a larger pattern of the "white savior narrative" in film, and should be examined as such.
Violence & Scariness
Repeated verbal and visual references to street/gun violence (the film opens with clips from the Rodney King tape, riots in Los Angeles, and reports on murders in Long Beach). Brief but jolting fight between students (one pulls a gun). A shooting in a minimart leaves one boy with a bloody bullet wound in chest. Discussions about losing friends to shootings, as well as historical systems of oppression (specifically, the Holocaust); descriptions of Holocaust violence. While writing in their journals, flashback scenes show students who have witnessed drive-by shootings, domestic abuse, and a memory a teen shares when, as a young boy, his best friend shows him a handgun while they sit on a park bench before his best friend accidentally shoots himself and dies.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Allusions to teen pregnancy, some kissing between high school couples, girls in tight outfits. Some kissing and innuendo between a married couple.
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Some profanity, including one dramatic use of "f--k you." "N" word used in a journal entry. Racial slurs against Asian characters, and during a racially-charged classroom conflict, one character yells, "Get your ass back to China." "Bulls--t," "s--t," "bitch," "goddamn," "ass."
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Products & Purchases
Starbucks coffee cup clearly shown in one scene. Students drink Coca-Cola Classic. Teacher gives out gift bags from Borders Books. Lead character also works at a Mariott Hotel.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Erin and Scott drink wine several times; she gets drunk after an emotional upheaval. Lead character's father drinks whiskey at dinner.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Freedom Writers is a 2007 movie in which Hilary Swank plays an idealistic young white teacher who inspires a group of "at-risk" students of color to believe in themselves. The movie is set in a Long Beach, California high school in the mid-1990s against the backdrop of deep racial tensions in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating by police officers. Characters are killed in drive-by shootings. One of the characters is shown getting beaten up in a gang initiation. Gang violence, loss of a friend or family member, and the Holocaust are addressed. Kids argue with each other, including a scene in which characters use racial slurs to describe Asians. teacher. Students discuss the Holocaust, Anne Frank, and meet a survivor who describes her ordeal. Students write about their losses in their journals, which the teacher reads out loud or in voiceover; these scenes depict memories of shootings (including a young boy accidentally shooting himself and dying on a park bench), and domestic abuse. Profanity includes use of the "N" word in a journal entry, and a dramatic use of "f--k you." While the movie is based on a true story, families should take the opportunity to discuss it in the context of the "white savior narrative," and how and why movies like these can be problematic as America comes to grips with the far-reaching effects of systemic racism. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This deeply earnest drama follows a familiar storyline. An idealistic young teacher inspires her "at-risk" urban students to respect each other and themselves. She's white, they're mostly of color; she's clueless about their harsh lives, they initially resent her cluelessness but learn to appreciate her efforts to understand them. It's this last part that makes director Richard LaGravenese's film work, despite its many clichés. Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) makes a difference by asking her students to talk to her and each other -- and acting on what they say.
The plot is predicable, the actors too old to play high school students, and the pacing too slow. And really, the camera circles around deep-thinking faces a few too many times. But Freedom Writers also argues for listening to teenagers. That in itself makes it a rare and close-to-wonderful thing.
Did we miss something on diversity?
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