It's easy to dismiss at first glance that Freedom Writers as yet another run off the mill troubled teenage class with an inspirational teacher story where the latter whips the class into shape for graduation with some unorthodox teaching methods. In fact it is, except that it's based on accounts of real persons, and that it's full of heart.
Hilary Swank plays the reel life Erin Gruwell, a newbie teacher who goes into class 203 totally wide eyed and full of zest, only to find that her students, the product of the education system's "radical" integration policy, are filled with street smart punks that the other veteran educators wouldn't give a damn about. With most of them involved in street gangs, drive by shootings, violence and such, she's determined to stay on and make a difference to their lives, and in essence, to give them an education.
And it's not just education by going through the motions and mechanics of the curriculum, but real life skills and awareness in issues pertaining to their troubled lives - things like racial tolerance, harmony, and even lessons learnt from the largest gangster group in the history of mankind - the Nazis and the horrors of the Holocaust. In fact, it's the re-telling of these stories, featuring real survivors, and including the readings of select chapters in the Diary of Anne Frank, that distinguishes Freedom Writers from its genre peers, as we experience in tandem with the class, the take aways from the museum and field trips.
In essence, not only are there struggles for respect within the class, there's also Erin's battle with the bureaucratic system, and the fight back against prejudice she faces from her envious, clearly more experienced, colleagues, who to them, teaching is just a job. I suppose after many years in the same role, people do get jaded once in a while. But to experience someone coming in to make real changes, and to do what is right rather than just to do a job, makes one sit up and evaluate one's own career.
I thought Hilary Swank did a commendable job acting her role as the teacher who's willing to involve personal sacrifice to reach out and gain respect from her class, in order to fulfill her objective of getting their attention, and giving them a good education. And the real Erin Gruwell and her Freedom Writers, do deserve some respect in trying to change people's lives for the better.
Freedom Writers clocks in just slightly over 2 hours, but it's a delight to sit through as we follow the class and teacher through 2 years of school. Its message is simple, that we often misunderstand people who are different, either through looks, skin colour, family name and background etc, and that often leads to conflicts of various sorts. The road to peace, is naturally to reach out with sincerity, and truly understand the other party. In order words, make love, not war. The pen here, is truly mightier than the sword.