Now that the paper is finally over, I can continue with my movie-quests.
In that school, students were divided according to the colour of their skin. They are divided not by others, but themselves. They chose to stick to people with the same colour skin.
Gangsterism dominated the streets of Long Beach, California. Students in the school were exposed to violence everyday. They can just go out and if they trespass the racial borders, they might just get shot in the head. They risk death practically everyday just by venturing out on the streets.
Erin Gruwell, a new teacher and the heroine in the movie was only 24 years old when she was given a class full of students deemed ‘unteachable’. At first, she was the optimistic young teacher, ready to educate her students. Of course, the students at first gave her the usual wouldn’t-be-bothered attitude and showed absolutely no respect to her what-so-ever.
Erin Gruwell’s anger was ignited when she saw a piece of caricature of an African-American student being passed around the class. It reminded her of the depiction of the Jews during the Nazi German era. Propagandas using caricatures of Jews with big noses were transmitted around, propaganding the world against the Jews. She then touched on the Holocaust and found out that these students know nothing about it. But when she asked how many students have been pointed at the head with a gun before, all of them raised their hands.
“You think this is funny? Would this be funny if it were a picture of you?... I saw pictures just like this once, in a museum, only it wasn’t a black man. It was a Jewish man. And instead of the big lips, he had a really big nose – like a rat nose. But he wasn’t one particular Jewish man, this was a drawing of all Jews. And these pictures were put in the newspapers…by the biggest gang in history. You think you know all about gangs. You’re amateurs. This gang will put you all to shame…Take over neighbourhoods? That is nothing compared to them. They took over countries. You know want to know how? They just wipe out everybody they didn’t like and everybody they blame for their life being hard. And one of the ways they did it was by doing this. They print pictures like this in newspapers – Jews with big long noses and blacks with big fat lips. They also published scientific evidence that Jews and blacks were the lowest form of human species. Jews and Blacks were just like animals.So it doesn’t matter if they lived or died. In fact life would be a whole lot better…so what you’re saying is if the Latinos weren’t here, the Cambodians, the Whites or the Blacks, your life would be better?” - Erin Gruwell
I think what she means here is that racism happens because we just needed someone to blame for the injustice and hardshipes in our lives. I do believe that is true. For example in Malaysia, rich people do not ‘know’ racism. I think it's because they don’t feel the pressure or the injustice of the New Economic Policy. They don’t need to fight for their rights in education because they can afford education anywhere. The poors are the ones who feel the pinch. Therefore they are the ones who would complain about how the government gives the benefit to the Bumiputeras. I’m not trying to touch on sensitive issues here. But that is in some ways the truth. In America, people hate the Whites. Why? Because the Whites were the ones in power. They can create their own rules, do what they want because they have the authority to.
This theory actually applies to other stuff in life. For example in the movie, there’s this ridiculous male teacher (who I would really fire if I were the head of the school) who simply blame his students for the school’s plummeting reputation and results. You see, Wilson Highschool was a reputable school with great students until the government made it an integrated school. What made the teacher angry is he feels that students who want to be there couldn’t because they have to make way for stupid, useless kids who doesn’t want to or are forced to be in the school. You see, he’s again blaming others for his lack of responsibility as a good teacher. I don’t see Erin complaining.
I think that part of our lives and how it is depends on us. Like my dad always said, “You ride on what you have and for what you don’t have; you double your effort to keep up.” I really really treasure this advice because I find these words of wisdom. We don’t need to feel sorry for what we don’t have. We don’t blame others but rather work hard to compensate it. I guess in some ways, that is also what Erin is preaching.
Back to the movie, Erin then rode on this discovery (her students not knowing about the Holocaust) to teach her student by introducing to her students books like “The Diary of Anne Frank”. She feels that the character in the book has a lot in common with her students.
She introduces her students to diary writing, whereby she asked her students to keep an account of their lives and their stories, just like Anne Frank. They can even write poems, songs, whatever, the only condition is that they have to write everyday. She told them she is not going to read the diary/journal, unless they wanted her to. And she wouldn’t grade them, because how can she said, “How can I grade an A or a B for one writing the truth, right?”
Indirectly, she got her students to start reading and writing.
We also see how Erin in some ways challenged the school’s system. The school wouldn’t give new books to the students in her class because they feel that these children are hopeless anyway. There’s Ms. Campbell, (I forgot her post in the school) a lady who wouldn’t let Erin use some of the new books in the library even though they are just sitting there because she said the kids wouldn’t know how to read them and will damage them anyway. Why waste time? It’s like she didn’t even give them a chance. She just wrote them off. She said the school will only give them old, torn books because these students don’t know how to take care of books. This scene in the movie, I find Erin’s words extremely meaningful.
Ms. Campbell: “No, not the books…this is what we give them. It’s Romeo and Juliet, but the condensed version. But even these, look how they treat them. You see how torn up they are? They draw on them…
Erin: “Ms. Campbell, they know they get these because no one thinks they are smart enough for real books.”
“Dr. Cohen, why should they waste their time showing up, when they know we’re wasting our time teaching them. We tell them, go to school, get an education and then we say, well, they can’t learn so let’s not waste resources. You don’t treat students with respect and trust…how are you supposed to teach them? Besides, the books are just SITTING THERE. At least try and let those kids, maybe somebody can benefit from them."
Later, Erin Gruwell worked 3 jobs in order to buy new books for her students since the school is not sponsoring even though they have the resources. Later she also managed to convince the School Board Chairman to let her take her kids out on a trip to the Holocaust Museum, again using her own resources. During the trip, the students also got to speak to some real Jewish victims who suffered during the Nazi German era. The students stayed in a beautiful hotel. See, Erin treated her students like they were gentlemen and ladies, she didn’t see them as worthless students who cannot be taught or guided. You earn respect by giving respect.
Erin has another point which I totally agree with. How can you expect them to study if they have so many other things in life to worry about? We only see on the surface that they are students that wouldn’t care about their studies, but we never get to the root of their problems. They all wanna be somebody too, but maybe they don’t know how or they don’t think they can without someone to guide them. That’s when Erin comes in.
The students, inspired by their teacher later changed and started believing that they can achieve almost anything. For example they did fundraising in order to get enough money to invite Miep Gies, a kind-hearted soul who helped hid Anne Frank to their school.
What I really liked about this movie is that it is actually based on a true story. I didn’t know that racial discrimination was such a huge and disturbing issue in the US until I watch this movie. All the stories of the characters are real, based on the real-life students. And there is really this honourable teacher, Erin Gruwell.
So why “Freedom Writers”? Towards the end of the movie, Erin wanted her students to compile all their stories into one. And they named themselves “Freedom Writers” after the Freedom Fighters/Riders. The book was later published, so yes, we can actually read that book if we want to, if we buy it. In 2007, a movie was made based on the story. And guys, go check out the Freedom Writers Foundation website – www.freedomwriters.com
Overall, I think this is by far one of the best inspirational movies I’ve watched this year. Well but then it’s only the 20th of January haha. Hopefully more good movies await me.
With LotSa Lurve,