Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Richard LaGravenese|
|Produced by||Danny DeVito
|Screenplay by||Richard LaGravenese|
|Based on||The Freedom Writers Diary
by Erin Gruwell and her class
|Music by||Mark Isham
|Edited by||David Moritz|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Running time||122 minutes|
It is based on the book The Freedom Writers Diary by teacher Erin Gruwell who wrote the story based on Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Eastside, Long Beach, California. The title is a play on the term "Freedom Riders", referring to the multiracial civil rights activists who tested the U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering the desegregation of interstate buses in 1961.
The main events depicted take place between 1993–1996, beginning with scenes from the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank), a new, excited school teacher who leaves the safety of her hometown, Newport Beach, to teach at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, a formerly high achieving school which has recently put an integration plan in place. Her enthusiasm is rapidly challenged when she realizes that her class are all "at-risk" high school students, also known as "unteachables", and not the eager-for-college students she was expecting. The high school students self-segregate into racial groups in the classroom, gang fights break out, and eventually most of the high school students stop attending class. Not only does Gruwell meet opposition from her high school students, but she also has a difficult time with her department head, who refuses to let her teach her high school students with books in case they get damaged and lost, and instead tells her to focus on training their discipline and obedience.
One night, two high school students, Eva (April Lee Hernández), a Mexican-American girl and narrator for much of the film, and a Cambodian refugee, Sindy (Jaclyn Ngan), frequent the same convenience store. An additional student, Grant Rice (Armand Jones) is frustrated at losing an arcade game and demands a refund from the store owner. When he storms out, Eva's boyfriend Paco attempts a drive-by shooting, intending to kill Grant but misses, accidentally killing Sindy's boyfriend. As a witness, Eva must testify at court; she intends to guard "her own" in her testimony.
At school, Gruwell intercepts a racist drawing by one of her high school students and utilizes it to teach them about the Holocaust. She gradually begins to earn their trust and buys them composition books to record their diaries, in which they talk about their experiences of being abused, seeing their friends die, and being evicted. Determined to reform her high school students, Gruwell takes on two part-time jobs to pay for more books and spends a lot more time at school, much to the disappointment of her husband (Patrick Dempsey). Her students start to behave with respect and discover a lot more. A transformation is specifically visible in one student, Marcus (Jason Finn). Gruwell invites various Jewish Holocaust survivors to talk with her class about their experiences and requires the students to attend a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance. Meanwhile, her unique training methods are scorned by her colleagues and department chair Margaret Campbell (Imelda Staunton).
The following semester comes, and Gruwell teaches her class again, making it the second semester of her being their teacher. On the first day of sophomore semester, Gruwell makes her class do a "Toast for Change", allowing everyone to open up about their struggles and how they would attempt to change each. (This title - "Toast for Change", reoccurs for the themes of their fundraisers). In class, when reading The Diary of Anne Frank, they invite Miep Gies (Pat Carroll), the woman who sheltered Anne Frank from the German soldiers, to talk to them. After they raise the money to bring her over, Miep shares her experiences hiding Anne Frank. When Marcus tells her that she is his hero, she denies it, claiming she was merely doing the right thing. Her denial leads Eva to rethink her plan to lie during her testimony. When she testifies, she finally breaks down and tells the truth, much to some of her family members' dismay and to her own risk. She gets attacked by members of her gang and ends up going to live with her aunt in order to keep herself safe.
Meanwhile, Gruwell asks her students to write their diaries in book form. She compiles the entries and names it The Freedom Writers Diary. Her husband divorces her and Margaret tells her she cannot teach her kids for their junior year. Gruwell fights this decision, eventually convincing the superintendent to permit her to teach her kids' junior and senior year. The film ends with a note that Gruwell successfully prepared numerous high school students to graduate high school and attend college, for many the first in their families to do so.
- Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell
- Patrick Dempsey as Scott Casey
- Scott Glenn as Steve Gruwell
- Imelda Staunton as Margaret Campbell
- John Benjamin Hickey as Brian Gelford
- April Lee Hernandez as Eva Benitez
- Mario as Andre Bryant
- Jason Finn as Marcus
- Vanetta Smith as Brandy Ross
- Antonio Garcia as Miguel
- Jaclyn Ngan as Sindy Ngor
- Kristin Herrera as Gloria Munez
- Gabriel Chavarria as Tito
- Hunter Parrish as Ben Samuels
- Giovonnie Samuels as Victoria
- Deance Wyatt as Jamal Hill
- Sergio Montalvo as Alejandro Santiago
- Robert Wisdom as Dr. Carl Cohn
- Will Morales as Paco
- Ricardo Moline as Eva's Father
- Angela Alvarado as Eva's Mother
- Angela Sargeant as Marcus' Mother
- Pat Carroll as Miep Gies
- Chil Kong as Store Owner
Freedom Writers had a domestic gross of $36,605,602 and had a foreign gross of $6,485,139 bringing the movie to a total gross of $43,090,741 worldwide. On the film's opening weekend it grossed a total of $9,405,582 ranking 4th behind Children of Men (3rd), The Pursuit of Happyness (2nd), and Night at the Museum (1st).
Freedom Writers has received mostly positive reviews from critics. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes provides links to 124 reviews, 69% of which are positive. The critical consensus is that "Freedom Writers is a frank, formulaic entry in the inspirational inner-city teacher genre, with an energetic Hilary Swank leading the appealing cast of unknowns."  Another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 64/100 based on 29 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Cynthia Fuchs of Common Sense Media gave the film three out of five stars, writing in her review that "the plot is predictable, the actors too old to play high school students, and the pacing too slow. And really, the camera circles around deep-thinking faces a few too many times. But Freedom Writers also argues for listening to teenagers. That in itself makes it a rare and close-to-wonderful thing." The film received a positive rating from Fox Weekly, giving the film a 9 out of 10.
Instrumental sections of Sia's "Breathe Me" accompany the film's television trailer.
The Freedom Writers soundtrack contains the following songs:
- "Listen!!!" by Talib Kweli
- "It’s R Time" by Jeannie Ortega
- "When the Ship Goes Down" by Cypress Hill
- "Hip Hop Hooray" by Naughty by Nature
- "Keep Ya Head Up" by 2Pac
- "Code of the Streets" by Gang Starr
- "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" by Digable Planets
- "Officer" by Pharcyde
- "This is How We Do It" by Montell Jordan
- "Colours" by will.i.am
- "Bus Ride" by will.i.am
- "Riots" by will.i.am
- "Eva’s Theme" by Mark Isham
- "Anne Frank" by Mark Isham
- Official website
- Freedom Writers at the Internet Movie Database
- Freedom Writers at AllMovie
- Freedom Writers at Box Office Mojo
- Freedom Writers at Rotten Tomatoes
- Freedom Writers at Metacritic
- Freedom Writers Production Notes
- eFilmCritic.com interview with educator Erin Gruwell and real-life Freedom Writer Maria Reyes on "Freedom Writers"
- 'Cinematical' interview with Erin Gruwell, Jason Finn, and Maria Reyes