© Universal Pictures International Germany GmBH

Freedom Writers
U.S.A./Germany 2007

Opening 15 Mar 2007

Directed by: Richard Lagravenese
Writing credits: Richard Lagravenese
Principal actors: Hilary Swank, Patrick Dempsey, Scott Glenn, Imelda Staunton, April Lee Hernandez

In the early minutes of Freedom Writers an extraordinarily naive Hilary Swank as the real, first-time teacher Erin Gruwell, gives you serious reason to doubt that the movie has a chance. But almost immediately, Swank’s character begins to learn about the students in her class and realize that teaching these kids will take all the creativity and empathy she can muster. Her mind-boggling naiveté slips away and her dedication begins to bloom (and, incidentally, to contribute to the disintegration of her marriage to Scott (Patrick Dempsey of Dr. McDreamy fame).

The teenagers in Room 203 are a mixed lot: Asian, Latino and Black with one frightened white boy who finds himself isolated and (thankfully) ignored by the violent, warring factions of the ethnically divided class. The film, in flashbacks, gives us the backgrounds of these discarded kids—juvenile delinquents, gang members, underprivileged students from poor neighbourhoods and broken families who have been bussed into the school in the name of integration and are just killing time in an institution which cannot wait for them to be gone.

In the early weeks a shooting involving members of her class radically changes Gruwell’s teaching methods. Her new approach takes them back to the Holocaust and the Diary of Anne Frank to show them that racism, hatred, gangs, and war are not new and have engulfed kids many times in history. And she inspires them to write their stories, record their experiences and their emotions in dealing with their violence-filled lives.

This is a true story and it is a successful film, very different from the usual charismatic-teacher-inspires-rebellious-kids stuff we are so used to, because it is based on the actual diaries written by Gruwell’s students and eventually published as a book they titled The Freedom Writers.

The movie, written and directed by Richard Lagravenese, who wrote The Fisher King and The Bridges of Madison County, is engrossing and deeply moving. April Lee Hernandez in her first feature role as Eva is wonderful, as are most of the actors playing the students, and Swank’s personal identification with Erin Gruwell is evident in her excellent performance. (Adele Riepe)

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