the film, freedom writers, directed by richard lagravenese, captured the lives of underrepresented and at-risk students living in long beach, california who were born into gang life and did not see their lives beyond the age of eighteen years. Erin Gruwell was a passionate young teacher interested in social change. Wanting to make a difference, she volunteered to teach at the newly integrated Woodrow Wilson High School. the film’s portrayal of stereotypes was emphasized through its technical aspects, recurring themes of racial segregation and profiling, and characterizations of individuals, while, at the same time, the film’s humor was able to keep it light-hearted. and enjoyable for the audience.
The Freedom Writers is about young novice teacher Erin Gruwell and the students in room 203 at Woodrow Wilson High School, Long Beach, California. the story takes place from 1992 to 1995 and is a true story. ms gruwell was very excited for her first day. she had big plans on how she was going to get students to line up outside the classroom door, instead of not showing up to class or dropping out before she finished the first semester.
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this was the reputation of the schools after the integration program was suggested at woodrow wilson. teaching street children was much easier said than done. to get the attention of the students, mrs. Gruwell had to call them Nazis and count how many of them had lost friends to gang violence.
students come from many different societies. in room 203 there are blacks, whites, Latinos and Cambodians. For many of these children, death, violence, gangs and the fight for territory are daily events. they come from broken families and have had a very difficult and challenging childhood. they are happy if they make it to the end of the day. one of the students, eva, told mrs. Gruwell during class; “what are you doing here that makes a fucking difference in my life?” this wakes up mrs. Gruwell, and she starts using unusual methods like playing games, taking students on trips, and having them write diaries to try and teach, and to help them with their lives and their chance to graduate from high school and go to college. the title of the movie and the book are based on these diaries.
There are a lot of strong characters in this movie. It’s not easy to decide who the main characters are, because we feel like we know each one of them, and each character has her own story. ms gruwell seemed like the daughter of a rich and callow man, but through the things she did, she showed us some admirable sides of herself. eva benitez is a latin/spanish-american girl. she has a very strong personality and fights hard for what she believes is right. but under her unshakable mask, we can feel a hint of uncertainty.
marcus is a black guy, and one of the people we know best. he seems like a very nice guy, but he also has the dark secrets about him. Marcus changes his personality and his way of life a lot because he wants to go back home with his mother. sindy is a cambodian girl. she was involved in the major conflicts in the film. she has been in a refugee camp, and after the war in cambodia her father is no longer the same. her character shows no fear and admirable willpower.
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the main theme of the film “freedom writers” was about the prevalence of racism in public schools and the breaking down of stereotypes. at the beginning of the movie, the students who were in mrs. Gruwell’s class was clearly segregated from each other and isolated into cliques. gang wars were part of their daily life. wars stemmed from previous generations teaching and portraying that violence and hate were normal.
Growing up, children were raised to hate and fight anyone, even at school, who was of a different race than their own. while the other teachers had given up on these students, mrs. Gruwell saw the true potential in her. her classroom became a place where students could feel physically and emotionally safe. the social relevance of this film belongs to the present. Although we have improved as a society, racial tension and gang violence still exist in public schools, but it is important to recognize that these students are not lost causes.
They may be considered outsiders, but their backgrounds make them strong enough to overcome the stereotypes that have been imposed on them, get an education, and invite change in their communities. the value of this film was that teachers should not judge or give up on students regardless of their background. teachers need to see that these students just need the opportunity to show they are capable. With the rodney king riots in los angeles in 1992 in the not too distant past, the plot of the freedom writers became very realistic. racial tension in the Los Angeles area had reached an all time high. this racial tension carried over to mrs. Gruwell’s classroom.
Blacks, Latinos, and Cambodians had been segregated. It wasn’t hard to figure out what might very well have been what many high schools in the Los Angeles and Long Beach area looked like after the 1992 riots. the way mrs. Gruwell gathered the students did not seem realistic. when you’ve been in rival gangs for most of your life, it seems like it would have been hard to join over a few journal entries and a trip to the museum of tolerance.
however, we didn’t grow up in the los angeles/long beach area during that time period, so we have no idea what the situation was like for those kids. overall the film was well put together and the plot was compelling and believable. the freedom writers had a mission. nothing about the film was subliminal, and the characterizations were blatant. they could have helped or hurt the message of the film. characterizations were warring factions with a mutual hatred for each other.
the main metaphor was the war between the ghetto, little tijuana, little cambodia and the whites. they all fought for their people, but never for their own identity, since they were willing to give their lives to be “respected”.
The stereotypes of each ethnicity defined the characters at first, but as the story progressed, their characterizations became more unique and tragic. Both society and teachers looked down on these children, not expecting them to get anywhere in life. stereotypes placed on long beach youth attract empathy from the audience because they can be compared in some way to being looked down upon. so through the horrible environment you understand the stagnation and ignorance of the child, but also her will to survive.
With such a forceful theme and great acting, the film elicited emotions such as understanding, sympathy, inspiration, and discontent with the educational system. at the beginning of the film, you almost never see blacks, latinos or cambodians in the same scenes. lagravenese does this to show the racial tension that existed in long beach after the rodney king riots in 1992.
The different ethnic groups were only in the same scenes when they were fighting. scenes shot in mrs. Gruwell’s classroom didn’t even show different racial groups in the same shot. once mrs. gruwell broke the racial barriers at the end of the movie, lagravenese then started showing all the students in the same scenes.
Lagravenese also used lighting to help emphasize the racial divide. at the beginning of the film, the scenes are very dark. as the movie progressed and mrs. Gruwell began to break down the racial divide, her classroom became lighter. she always had the blinds open and flowers scattered around the room to emphasize the peace and quiet. the choice of background music for the film subtly helped show how the racial divide in mrs. Gruwell’s classroom finally broke down. At the beginning of the film, tupac music was playing, talking about violence, suffering and poverty.
at the end of the movie, lagravenese played some of tupac’s music about hope, wealth and prosperity. this music was once played mrs. Gruwell had finally broken down the racial divide between the different ethnicities. the film captures the points of view of various students in the classroom, each fighting their own personal battle while capturing the relationship that is forming between them. with determination and passion contributed by mrs. Gruwell, students focus on the phrase “toast to change” and being a hero even if you’re just an ordinary teenager.
the value of the film is to open the eyes of the audience to understand their surroundings and realize that there are many opportunities for one to make a difference just like mrs. Gruwell did as a teacher and like her students in the lives of others. To conclude, Freedom Writer beautifully portrayed how a group of students, with the help of their teacher, were able to abandon their previous stereotypes and mutual hatred to live in peace. This hatred stemmed from generations of ethnicity-based gang warfare, and though each teen fought for her people, she also had her own personal battles.
as the students were able to open up more to mrs. Gruwell about their lives, they realized they weren’t that different from each other. this helped form the close relationship of room 203. stereotypes of each group of students masked the identities of each individual, invoking feelings of sympathy and disbelief from the general public. The different styles of Tupac’s music and the way the scenes were filmed helped subliminally explain the divisions between the ethnic groups and how they came together. While the film may not be the most beautiful theatrically, the message it conveys is invaluable.
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