Lean on Me (film)

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Lean on Me
Lean on Me (poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John G. Avildsen
Produced by Norman Twain
Written by Michael Schiffer
Starring Morgan Freeman
Beverly Todd
Robert Guillaume
Music by Bill Conti
Cinematography Victor Hammer
Edited by John G. Avildsen
John Carter
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates March 3, 1989
Running time 124 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10,000,000 (estimated)
Box office $31,906,454 (USA)

Lean on Me is a 1989 dramatized biographical film written by Michael Schiffer, directed by John G. Avildsen and starring Morgan Freeman. Lean on Me is loosely based on the story of Joe Louis Clark, a real life inner city high school principal in Paterson, New Jersey, whose school is at risk of being taken over by the New Jersey state government unless students improve their test scores. This film's title refers to the 1972 Bill Withers song of the same name. Parts of the film, including the elementary school scenes, were filmed in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.

Plot Summary[edit]

In 1987 Eastside High School has problems - especially with drugs and gang violence. The state legislature has legislated that schools with fewer than 75% of their students passing the MBST will be put in receivership. Mayor Don Bottman (Alan North) consults school superintendent Dr. Frank Napier (Robert Guillaume), who suggests they hire elementary school principal Joe Louis "Crazy Joe" Clark (Morgan Freeman) as new principal. The mayor is reluctant at first, because he knows the trouble one-time radical Clark has caused in the past. Clark is hired and, at his first faculty meeting, reprimands all those present for being unable to keep their own school safe and secure and to maintain passing MBST scores. Tension arises after Clark dismisses from the school 300 students who are identified as drug dealers, abusers, or troublemakers.

The next day Clark runs into one of the expelled youths, overweight freshman Thomas Sams (Jermaine Hopkins), who asks for the opportunity to reform and finish his education ("I can't just go home and tell my mother I got thrown out of school"). In a dramatic rooftop scene, Clark gives him a sharp lecture about crack cocaine and the likely fate of those who use it. Clark then challenges Sams to commit suicide by jumping off the roof ("You're killing your brain cells! If you *really* wanna kill yourself, do it expeditiously!") Sams, breaking down in tears, refuses and begs for a chance to turn his life around. Clark agrees, warning Sams that he (Clark) is acting against his own better judgment by reversing the expulsion, and that he will bounce him for good if he messes up in any way whatsoever. Secretly, however, Clark is elated at having gotten even one of those 300 "problem youth" onto the right track again. But then another expelled student, narcotics pusher Brian Banes, gets inside the school and attacks former classmate Kid Ray. When Clark rushes in to stop him, Banes pulls a knife on the principal. With help from Sams and Security Dean William Wright (Tony Todd), Clark subdues Banes. Following this, Clark orders all doors chained and locked during school hours to keep drug dealers out (despite knowing he is breaking the fire code), and enlists security guards to keep the fire chief out of the school. Clark's unusual methods lead to clashes with numerous teachers and with his vice principal, Mrs. Levias (Beverly Todd). He fires the music teacher for clashing with him in front of the students and suspends another teacher for not following his orders. In a meeting in his office, Dr. Napier harshly reminds Clark to stop with his antics and get his act together or else their efforts will be in vain.

The students take a practice version of the basic skills test, but only 33% of them pass it (the minimum passing requirement is 75%). Clark embarks on a campaign to prepare the students for the real test, culminating in a motivational assembly the morning of the exam.

Over the school year, the students bond with Mr. Clark, not just as a principal, but as a father figure. Clark highly values school pride, and several times throughout the film insists that all students learn the school song and be able to perform it on demand.

Meanwhile, one parent, Leona Barrett (Lynne Thigpen), whose son was expelled from Eastside by Clark, has made it her personal mission to get Clark removed ever since the parents meeting on his first day, so she threatens the mayor politically. The fire chief eventually catches Clark with chains barring the school doors and records him ordering them removed during a surprise fire inspection. Clark's arrest comes after a key scene involving Kaneesha (Karen Malina White), who had been one of Clark's students when he was a grade school principal. Clark is offering counsel to her after Kaneesha has tearfully revealed her unplanned pregnancy by a fellow student.

That night, while Clark is in jail and the school board is preparing to vote on a motion to remove him as principal of Eastside High at the instigation of Mrs. Barrett, the entire student body converges on the Central Office of the Paterson Board of Education. They demand that Clark be released from jail and retained as principal. Mrs. Barrett tries to convince the students that Clark has made too many wrong decisions and is not the right man to be principal of Eastside and asks that they return to their homes before any trouble starts. The students claim that Clark cares for them and has done so much good that they will not accept anyone else as their principal, and they try to shout down Mrs. Barrett with chants and cheers.

As Mrs. Barrett tries to lecture the students, Clark is freed from custody by the mayor in the hope that he can talk the students into dispersing in order to avoid a violent confrontation with the police. As he tries to convince the students to return to their homes, he is given a letter from the state by Mrs. Levias with the good news that more than enough students have passed the basic skills exam, which means the current local school board will retain control over the school. Then Clark leads his class of 1987 students in singing Eastside High's school song. The closing credits feature scenes of Clark handing diplomas to the graduating seniors and Sams jokingly attempting to pose as one.


Awards and nominations[edit]

1991 NAACP Image Awards

  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Motion Picture – Morgan Freeman (won)
  • Outstanding Motion Picture (won)

1990 Young Artist Awards

  • Young Artist Award Best Motion Picture – Drama (nominated)
  • Best Young Actor Supporting Role in a Motion Picture – Jermaine 'Huggy' Hopkins (nominated)
  • Best Young Actress Supporting Role in a Motion Picture – Karen Malina White (nominated)
  • Jackie Coogan Award – Norman Twain, producer (nominated)

American Film Institute recognition

AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains- "Crazy" Joe Clark- Nominated Hero


External links[edit]