Movie ‘Freedom Writers’ (essay)

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In the movie, Freedom Writers, there were many important topics highlighted when it comes to inequality. The form of inequality that was predominately featured in this film was racial and ethnic inequality. This movie took place in the mid 1990’s, was filmed in 2007, and here we are over a decade later still facing many of the same issues that were highlighted in this movie.

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This movie focused on a teacher’s experience teaching for the first time in a school with extremely high racial tension. The teacher’s name is Erin Gruwell and it was her first time in front of her own classroom and she was in for a surprise. This particular class was for more of the challenging students and they weren’t expected to amount to much. The majority of this classroom was involved with gangs themselves or had family members affiliated with gangs and violence of that nature. After the bell rung for the first time and eventually the students made their way in, it was obvious the way that they segregated themselves among one another. In one section there was a group of African Americans huddled together, next to them a group of Latino students were together, a group of Cambodian students did the same, etc. until the room was full of students. Right off the bat, it was clear the amount of tension there was between all of the groups as students inside the classroom got into an extremely heated verbal, almost physical, altercation. The following day, a student met up with some members of her gang and let them into the school grounds which resulted in a full-on rumble between two of the ethnic groups. Once students in the classroom realized what was going on A student of a different ethnicity was seen reaching for a gun that was tucked into his waistband then took off when he noticed he had been seen by Ms. Gruwell. These same themes of violence follow on throughout the movie. After a lot of hard work and tons of perseverance when it came to get any kind of movement in the approval for any of her ideas, Ms. Gruwell was persistent and ended up uniting the class aside from their differences. She got a weekend school trip approved, bought them new books instead of being given old tattered ones, and organized fundraisers for the classroom. The challenges that these students faced were had to comprehend, but with these coming to light, it brought on a stronger desire for change. What was once a divided, tense classroom, became a home to these students, and found family in one another, aside from their differences.

The very first words spoken when viewing the trailer for this movie was “In Long Beach, it all comes down to what you look like. It’s all about color. If you’re Latino, or Asian, or Black, you could get blasted any time you walk out your door.” This was a reality for these students in the movie and is still a reality today for people all over the world. As mentioned earlier, this entire movie was focused on racial and ethnic inequality. As stated in the Social Inequality textbook written by Charles E. Hurst, Heather M. Fitz Gibbon, and Anne M. Nurse, it says that “The unequal treatment of racial minorities in the United States goes back to the early years of colonization.” (p. 181). Although, in those days instead of being initially defined by your skin color, you were characterized by religion. Following that statement, the book goes on to say “Rather than color or racial distinction, religious and ethnocentric criteria were used initially to separate groups into superior and inferior categories. Specifically, distinctions were made between “Christians” and “heathens” and between “civilized” and “savage” (Fredrickson 1981). Clearly, the American Indians were placed in the heathen and savage categories. Thus, distinct attitudes about this group were entrenched by the time the American Revolution occurred.” (p. 181). This movie demonstrates inequality not in just one way, but in endless forms. The upperclassmen courses were full of white students and when they finally had a student of another race enrolled in the class, the teacher singled her out and asked her for a “black perspective” on The Color Purple. Another time inequality was clearly displayed was when there was an open house night with an opportunity for the students’ parents to come in and meet with their teachers. It was shown that there were countless parents that had shown up to this event in the faster paced, more advanced (predominately white raced students) classes, but not a single parent showed up to this class. Could it be because they don’t care about their child’s education? Was it because they didn’t have a form of reliable transportation to make it to the event? Maybe it was because it wasn’t safe for them to leave or venture out due to gang violence. Situations like these arising in the classroom is not going to make any student, Black, White, Asian, Latino, etc. want to show up or care about their education at all. Why should these students (who are treated unfairly and aren’t given the same opportunities as the more privileged students) feel that education, etc. is worth their time if the people educating them aren’t helping them realize their worth and potential?

Yes, there were many times that these students were affected by the inequality negatively in the movie, but what about the times that it turned around to be something great? One scene that really stood out was when the teacher passed out some books that she bought. Yes, they were just books, but they were so much more than that. Prior to Ms. Gruwell’s arrival, these students would be given the most beaten, used books the school had because they would “just destroy them”. The look on their faces when they were given their brand-new books was priceless yet so sad. These students were trusted with the most basic of an item, but the fact that they were trusted ended up being yet another life altering moment. The inequality between races was clear in the state of their homes, in the way they dressed, acted and carried themselves. Instead of going to school with the expectation to learn and get an education, they went with their defenses up and ready to defend themselves at any given time.

When in a situation like the ones that these students were placed in, there are many things working against their success of getting out and onto better things. One of the main things holding people back from change in these sorts of areas. There are millions of kids/teens/young adults who notice the negatives in the world we live in and the things that need changed, but they can only do so much until it gets passed onto higher powers. Students can’t make things happen (easily) if the people who are in the positions of authority don’t have the same sort of mentality. In the movie this is shown when Ms. Gruwell tries to get various things approved but is constantly being turned down by the people in a slightly higher position than her. She spent so much time trying to make these kids’ lives better, and due to seniority rules and prior rules enforced, she couldn’t move further with her ideas in the way she had hoped. It took a lot of brainstorming and thinking outside the box in order to finally get some things changed. Although it made things a whole lot harder to accomplish, it was not impossible.

As mentioned before regarding the higher authority being needed to accomplish things, this also applies to the law. U.S. Code Title 42, Chapter 21 of the U.S. Code is something in which is set up to prevent discrimination in many circumstances. “Title 42, Chapter 21 of the U.S. Code prohibits discrimination against persons based on age, disability, gender, race, national origin, and religion (among other things) in a number of settings – including education, employment, public accommodations, federal services, and more. Chapter 21 is where a number of federal acts related to civil rights have been codified – including the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.” (“Race Discrimination,” 2018). Essentially, this chapter is in place to enforce being a decent human being to one another. This would have been very helpful/important in the movie because these students were discriminated against inside the school doors by the faculty that was there prior to the integration. If this act was made known and was strictly enforced on the employees, the students wouldn’t have had to endure some of the same disrespect and unequal treatment that they receive when they walk out those school doors.

Overall, I genuinely enjoyed this movie. It was one that has some tough pills to swallow so-to-speak, but I feel that this is so important. The way the movie was organized, filmed, and the clips from real news outlets brought an overwhelming sense of reality. For some of these students, these gangs that they are in are the only family that they have. Instead of just backing out of a gang if things get out of hand, it only motivates them to go further, and fight harder. The thing about this movie that really got to me was how all of these students were essentially content with the life they were living in the sense that they weren’t doing anything to try to get out of their situation. Instead of looking at the life they’re living and deciding to strive for a better life and an education, they were convinced that that was the life they were born into and would be the way things are forever. The impact that this single teacher had on this entire group of extremely diverse students is incredible. If one first time teacher can have this large of an impact on this intensely divided class, just imagine the difference that could be made in the world if everyone took an approach similar to Ms. Gruwell’s. 

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Movie 'Freedom Writers' (essay). (2021, May 24). Retrieved November 30, 2022 , from
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