Freedom Writers Parent Guide
Parent Movie Review
In the early 1990s, an undeclared war claims countless lives and devastates unnumbered families in Los Angeles neighborhoods. Armed with guns, gangs of youths—Hispanic, Asian, Black and White—- fight amongst themselves for territory on the street and even in the schoolyard.
Coming to the ethnically and economically diverse Wilson High School as a young, unproven teacher, Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) is enthusiastic, idealistic and extremely naïve about the classroom of freshmen she is about to take on. But the first day of school soon opens her eyes when the students immediately segregate their desks into racial groups and a fight breaks out during her lesson.
Initiated but unfazed, she believes there is a way to change society for the better—an attitude she got from her activist father. However Steve Gruwell (Scott Glenn) has softened over time and is less than supportive of his daughter’s dream to improve these young people’s educational opportunities.
Still Erin persists. Along with sentence structure and vocabulary lists, she tackles the racial tensions that dominate the classroom by initiating innovative approaches to English. She introduces her class members to the horrors of the Holocaust and The Diary of Anne Frank. Later, she teaches her pupils the power of the written word by giving each student a journal in which to record his or her own experiences. It becomes their avenue to record and help make sense of their lives. In turn, as she reads through the scrawled entries, Erin gains a whole new appreciation for the challenges and ordeals her students face every day on the streets.
Yet not everyone applauds her success. Threatened by Erin’s persistent and sometimes unorthodox efforts, Margaret Campbell (Imelda Staunton), the English department head, becomes increasingly stingy with resources and hesitates to help the class of "at-risk" underachievers. Even Erin’s husband Scott (Patrick Dempsey) distances himself as the highly-motivated educator commits more and more of herself to her students.
Bloody depictions of gang violence (drive-by shootings, beatings and gunfire) and frequent profanities including one sexual expletive help to establish the rough backgrounds from which these students come. However they are likely too graphic for some teens and especially children. Tension and disrespect also run rampant in the classroom and is aimed at students and teacher alike.
Despite the students’ aggressive outbreaks and the administration’s lack of support, Erin pushes herself to connect with her pupils. Believing the kids are not "unteachable," her perseverance eventually breaks through their tough exteriors. Helping the hopeless find a venue for their voices, Erin Gruwell’s real life story will inspire older students, parents and educators alike.Starring Hilary Swank, Patrick Dempsey. Running time: 123 minutes. Theatrical release January 4, 2007. Updated April 30, 2009
Rating & Content Info
Why is Freedom Writers rated PG-13? Freedom Writers is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for violent content, some thematic material and language
Living in gang-run neighborhoods, the students in Ms. Gruwell’s freshman English class (along with the viewers) are exposed to gunfire, drive-by shootings, and domestic abuse as well as the ruthless beatings and bloody murders of friends and family. Teens carry guns to school and fights break out in classrooms and on the grounds. Footage from the Rodney King riots and clippings of the Holocaust are also shown. Adults have alcohol with dinner and one couple drinks during an emotionally upsetting discussion. The script also contains profanities, ethno-cultural slurs and the use of one sexual expletive in a non-sexual context.
Page last updated April 30, 2009
More parents' guide for Freedom Writers after the break...
Freedom Writers Parents' Guide
The students’ personal diaries give them a chance to record their feelings and experiences. How can journaling help a person make sense of their life? Why is it important to find a place to develop a personal voice? What power comes from expressing oneself?
How do media portrayals of racial violence color our view of others? Are these depictions always accurate? How do they affect the way we interact with one another?
How does learning about the Holocaust help the students understand discrimination and war from another perspective? In what ways do the students relate to Anne Frank? How do the experiences of the Holocaust survivors influence the pupils?
For more information on Anne Frank go to: http://www.annefrank.com/. For other readings about the Holocaust, check out Number the Stars, Luba: The Angel of Bergen-Belsen and Remember World War II: Kids Who Survived Tell Their Stories.
The most recent home video release of Freedom Writers movie is April 16, 2007. Here are some details…
DVD Release Date: 17 April 2007
Fans of Freedom Writers take note: The film is coming to DVD in either full or wide screen presentations. Bonus extras include alternate and deleted scenes, as well as the movie’s theatrical trailer. Featurettes cover Making A Dream (a behind-the-scenes look at the movie), the Freedom Writers Family, and Freedom Writers: The Story Behind the Story (a documentary about the real Erin Gruwell). Audio tracks and subtitles are available in English.
Related home video titles:
Other stories based on the real life efforts of educators and young advocates have also made it to film. Gang violence rips apart the lives of youth on the streets and even inside prison walls until a camp guard introduces football as a way to deal with aggression and breakdown barriers in Gridiron Gang. Jaime Escalante takes on the challenge of teaching Calculus to a group of struggling inner city kids in Stand and Deliver. The documentary Paperclips follows the exceptional experiences of a small school in Tennessee that implements a Holocaust study with their students.