A BRIEF SUMMARY OF FREEDOM WRITERS
Freedom Writers is set in the 1990s and tells the story of a novice teacher’s interactions with a group of students in a Long Beach high school two years following the Los Angeles Riots. The film is based on the book The Freedom Writers Diaries: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them, a collection of essays compiled from the real experiences of Erin Gruwell (1999) and her students, known as the Freedom Writers. The teacher in the film, Erin Gruwell, played by Academy Award winning actress Hilary Swank, begins her teaching career at Wilson High School teaching a remedial freshman English class. Early in the film, Erin has difficulty establishing a connection with her students and turns to her father and husband for support. Erin’s father, a former civil rights attorney played by Scott Glenn, offers guidance, but not the support Erin seeks.
Scott, Erin’s husband played by Patrick Dempsey, distances himself from Erin’s work and eventually their relationship. Erin dedicates herself to teaching her students, leaving little time for her husband. She takes on part-time jobs to buy books for the students and spends late nights working in the classroom. This eventually leads to the distancing between Erin and Scott. Erin only realizes the effect of her dedication to her work when Scott asks for a divorce. The faculty of Wilson High contributes little to helping Erin in the classroom. They offer advice based on institutional standards and past performance of the students, some staff suggesting that the students simply “don’t want to learn.” At the center of the film, lie the stories of the students. The students are skeptical of Erin and her interest in their lives. Initially, they resist her attempts and refuse to cross the self-inflicted boundaries they have designated in the classroom. Based on race, the students sit within self-segregated groups of Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans. Erin attempts to break up the division by assigning students seats outside of their preferred area. In an attempt to connect the culture of the students with curriculum, Erin uses a Tupac Shakur song for a lesson on analyzing poetry. The students do not accept Erin’s use of the song.
At one point, a riot breaks out on the lawn of school. Erin walks through the mix of students watching the violence. She sees some of her students fighting and one of her students carrying a gun, but Erin does nothing and returns to the school the next day. During a lesson, Erin intercepts a paper that some of her students have circulated in the classroom. The paper contains a crude drawing of Jamal, an African-American student. Depicted with exaggerated features, the drawing inspires Erin to connect the events with those of the Nazis. She then begins to teach her students about the Holocaust and has them read The Diary of Anne Frank. Also, she takes the students on a trip to the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance and arranges a dinner at which the students meet with Holocaust survivors. Eva, a Latina student, confronts Erin about the story of Anne Frank. After reading the novel, Eva is upset to learn that Anne dies. Early in the film, Eva is shown fighting with gangs and throughout the film she is placed in difficult situations. This insight into Eva’s personal life is a technique repeated with other students in Erin’s class. The film depicts the personal struggles of some of the students, which is key to the assignment Erin develops. Erin, realizing the importance of the student’s lives outside of school, assigns personal journals to her class. The students are instructed to write daily in the journal. Erin tells the students that she will not read the entries unless the students have given her permission and that they are allowed to write about whatever they choose. The journals are kept in...
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