"Lighting Candles in the Darkness"
FREEDOM WRITERS is one of those movies about an idealistic but strong-willed teacher who transforms a chaotic class of hardened inner city youths. The movie is a little too slick and polished for its own good, but its positive, uplifting moral messages and interesting characters and situations echo the good qualities of such true classics as BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and STAND AND DELIVER.
Based on a true story, the movie stars Hillary Swank as Erin Gruwell, a young teacher who accepts a position teaching freshman and sophomore English at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif. It’s two years after the Los Angeles riots in 1992, and Mrs. Gruwell is having trouble relating to her mixed freshman class of Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and one white student. The white student just wants to leave, and the Hispanics, blacks and Asians have taken their gang warfare from the streets into the classroom. They aren’t interested in her earnest attempts to discuss Homer, the Greek poet, or teach proper grammar.
When one Hispanic student draws a racist picture of one black student, Mrs. Gruwell angrily starts telling them about the horrors of racism through the historical prism of National Socialist Germany and its bigotry and genocide against the Jews. Adolf Hitler’s “gang” puts your gangs to shame, she tells her students. She realizes, however, that only one of the students knows anything about the Holocaust at all. So, she decides to rebuke their hatred of one another by teaching them about the Holocaust, and having them read THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and write about their own experiences in a daily journal. Slowly, the students start to change, but Mrs. Gruwell’s efforts generate conflict with the backward thinking of her department head and with her husband, who just wants to forget about the outside world when he is home.
If FREEDOM WRITERS is a little too slick, it still contains enough heartfelt, provocative moments to become the first really good, entertaining movie of 2007 to be released. Though the movie’s emphasis on the efforts of a public school teacher is mostly secular and, hence, somewhat Romantic (see the definition below), the movie keeps returning to moral issues. Do the right thing, end the murderous violence, treat others with kindness and respect, and stop breaking up into hateful little tribes of angry racists, the movie repeatedly teaches. Thus, the focus of FREEDOM WRITERS is on positive moral values. This focus, which also strongly rebukes racism and inner city gang activity, is not only emotionally powerful and intellectually stimulating; it is also uplifting and entertaining. One of the most encouraging messages was the fact that the students gained knowledge about the truth and higher moral values, and then applied what they learned to their own lives and the people around them. This is exactly what happens when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, learn about His Way, Truth and Life in the Bible (John 14:6) and apply that faith, knowledge, hope, and, ultimately, love (1 Cor. 13:1 through 1 Cor. 14:1), through the renewing of our spirits by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:2 and Galatians 5:22-26).
Finally, although FREEDOM WRITERS is slightly liberal and (more strongly) secular in its approach, it is not so offensively liberal or secular that a conservative or a Bible-believing Jew or Christian couldn’t enjoy the movie and its messages (in fact, today’s average left-leaning liberal and atheist probably will think the movie doesn’t go far enough at all). What is more offensive is the movie’s inclusion of too much foul language, but the foul language lessens as the teacher transforms her students for the better, morally speaking as well as psychologically speaking.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Romanticism teaches that Man is essentially good and noble, and civilization (by which Rousseau, the “father” of Romanticism, meant Christianity) corrupts man. Man is controlled by his “heart” and emotions, not by his intellect or logical mind, and education (usually divorced from God or gods and God’s transcendent moral law) can transform Man, as well as his society, for the “better.” Paganism and mob rule are related to Romanticism, though Romanticism is more consistent and avoids totemism. Romanticism is not related to the idea of romance, but is an idealistic worldview.
(BBB, Ro, Fe, LLL, VV, A, M) Very strong moral worldview encourages young people to do the right thing, tell the truth, be kind, be polite, treat others with respect, gain knowledge about truth and apply it to your life and those around you, etc., with one positive mention of God (plus song talks about making a stand and promoting light and truth, and respected elderly woman encourages rapt students to light a candle in the darkness) and some light Romantic notions about the power of education to transform, but doing the right thing is emphasized most of the time so it's couched in a context of fulfilling good moral values, and, though the movie has a slightly liberal point of view about race relations and education, it's not politically correct because it generally avoids multiculturalism and the identity politics of envy of the current liberal left, but there's a silly feminist element in that the protagonist is married but writes "Ms." before her last name; 26 obscenities (including one to three "f" words with two seeming to be muffled if they occurred at all and one "s" word in lyric title over end credits), two strong profanities, and three light profanities; light references to gang violence such as one gunfight, gangs twice rough up teenage girl, man shot in chest (shown from long shot), fighting in classroom, a melee in the school yard, talk about the Holocaust but nothing really violent, TV scenes of 1992 riots in Los Angeles, and strong violent scene where teenage boy ducks gunfire and another teenage boy is hit in chest and there is a close up of the bloody hole in his chest with a pool of blood swelling from under his dead body (but nothing extremely graphic or really bloody); no sex scenes; no nudity; brief alcohol use with man drinking wine; no smoking but verbal references to drugs (nothing really implied and nothing depicted – movie is much more about the gang violence and hatred between ethnic groups); and, inner city gang activity and racism are very strongly rebuked, but a married couple gets divorced.
Based on a true story, FREEDOM WRITERS stars Hillary Swank as Erin Gruwell, a young teacher who accepts a position teaching freshman and sophomore English at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif. Mrs. Gruwell has trouble relating to her mixed freshman class of Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and one white guy. The white guy just wants to leave, and the Hispanics, blacks and Asians have taken their gang warfare from the streets into the classroom. When one Hispanic student draws a racist picture of one black student, Mrs. Gruwell starts teaching them about the horrors of racism through the historical prism of National Socialist Germany and its genocide against the Jews.
FREEDOM WRITERS is a little too slick and polished, but its positive, uplifting moral messages and interesting characters and situations echo the good qualities of such classics as BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and STAND AND DELIVER. Do the right thing, end the murderous violence, and stop separating into hateful tribes of angry racists, the movie repeatedly teaches. These morally positive messages are emotionally powerful, intellectually stimulating, uplifting, and entertaining. The movie contains, however, plenty of foul language and some brief gun violence.