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|
|Box office||$43.1 million|
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 the Eastside neighborhood of Long Beach, California. The movie is also based on the DC program called City at Peace. 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 idea for the film came from journalist Tracey Durning, who made a documentary about Erin Gruwell for the ABC News program Primetime Live. Durning served as co-executive producer of the film. The film was dedicated to the memory of Armand Jones, who was killed after wrapping up Freedom Writers. He was 18 and was shot to death in Anaheim, California after a confrontation with a man who robbed Jones of a necklace in a Denny's restaurant.
Woodrow Wilson High School is a formerly high-achieving school which has encountered some difficulties bearing its new racial integration plan. In 1994, in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots, Erin Gruwell, an enthusiastic young teacher starts at the school. Her enthusiasm is challenged when she finds her class is composed of "at-risk" students, the "untouchables," and not the eager-for-college students she expected. Her students self-segregate into racial groups within the classroom. This is problematic, as gang fights break out and, consequently, most of her students stop attending class. Not only is Gruwell challenged with gaining her students' trust on personal and academic levels, but she must do so with very little support from her professional peers and district higher-ups. For example, her department head refuses to provide Gruwell with an adequate number of books for her class because she insists they will get damaged and lost. Instead, she suggests that Gruwell focuses on instilling concepts of discipline and obedience in her classroom.
One night, two high school students, Eva (April Lee Hernández), a Latino-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), an African-American boy is frustrated at losing an arcade game and demands a refund from the store owner. When he storms out, Eva's boyfriend Paco (as retaliation for losing a fight against Grant that took place earlier during a gang fight at Woodrow Wilson) 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 school year comes, and Gruwell teaches her class (now sophomores) again, making it the second year that she is their teacher. On the first day of semester, Gruwell makes her class do a "Toast for Change", allowing everyone to open up about their struggles and what they wish to change about themselves. Later on, the class makes enough money to have Miep Gies to arrive to the United States and tell her experience when she helped Anne Frank, her family, and the Van Pels hide from the Nazis; she then also persuades to the students that they are heroes and that they "within their own small ways, [can] turn on a small light in a dark room." These two events inspire Eva to break free of the demands of her father to always protect her own rather than tell the truth. At Grant's trial, she shocks the courtroom by revealing that Paco actually killed the man in the store; Grant is spared of being convicted and Sindy later forgives Eva. On leaving the court, Eva is attacked and threatened but ultimately spared 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, much to their elation. 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, Erin's Father
- Imelda Staunton as Margaret Campbell
- John Benjamin Hickey as Brian Gelford
- April Lee Hernández as Eva Benitez
- Mario as Andre Bryant
- Jason Finn as Marcus
- Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Man in Cab #2
- 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
- Armand Jones as Grant Rice
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 Happiness (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.
Ms.Gruwell conveyed her high expectations for her students through consistency. She aimed to teach them works of literature such as The Odyssey and Anne Frank. She believed that they were capable of becoming more than what their environments had made them. She acknowledged that many of the adults around them had very low expectations of them. She was perhaps the first adult to believe that they were capable of achieving more. She believed that they could do well, graduate and go onto to college to become a contributing member of society. It was her faith in their abilities that pushed her students to believe in themselves and to care about their education. She adapted her teaching style to reach out to the interests of her students. She talked about pop culture to ‘break the ice’. This lead into the holocaust, which resembled some of the beginning causes of separation between social groups. She taught them about this historic tragedy, which she felt many of them could relate in some way. Ms.Gruwell acknowledged the weight of gang violence of the lives of her students and the artificial hatred they carried for members of other racial groups. She reassessed her direction for the class and taught according to their interests and their academic level; and, she slowly introduced higher standards, which tested their abilities.
Instrumental sections of Sia's "Breathe Me" accompany the film's television trailer.
The Freedom Writers soundtrack contains the following songs:
- "A Dream" by Common featuring will.i.am
- "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
- Freedom Writers at Rotten Tomatoes
- "Freedom Writers". Metacritic. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
- "Freedom Writers". Common Sense Media. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
- "Review: 'Freedom Writers' (2007)". Fox Weekly. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
- Weiss, Anthony (9 September 2014). "Chloe Valdary: Christian, black, rising star of pro-Israel campus activism". Times of Israel. Times of Israel. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
- 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