Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Richard LaGravenese|
|Produced by||Danny DeVito|
|Screenplay by||Richard LaGravenese|
|Based on||The Freedom Writers Diary|
by The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell
|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 and students who compiled the book out of real diary entries about their lives that they wrote in their English class at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, California. The movie is also based on the DC program called City at Peace. The title of the movie and book 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.
In 1994 in Long Beach, California, Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) has been accepted to teach English for at-risk students at Woodrow Wilson High School—a once highly acclaimed school which has declined since voluntary integration had been enforced and where racial tensions have increased since the Los Angeles riots two years prior. Erin struggles to form a connection with her students and observes numerous fights between some of them, who are in rival gangs.
One night, Latina student Eva Benitez (April L. Hernandez), her boyfriend Paco (Will Morales), and a friend go to a convenience store. Eva's classmate Sindy Ngor (Jaclyn Ngan), who is a Cambodian refugee, and her boyfriend also enter the store. African-American student Grant Rice (Armand Jones), frustrated at losing an arcade game, demands a refund from the store owner. As Grant storms out, Paco (as retaliation for losing a fight against Grant earlier during a massive brawl at school) attempts a drive-by shooting to kill Grant, but misses and accidentally kills Sindy's boyfriend. As a witness, Eva must testify in court; she intends to guard "her own" in her testimony.
At school, Erin intercepts a racist drawing by one of her Latino students and utilizes it to teach the class about the Holocaust, which everyone, except Caucasian student Ben Samuels (Hunter Parrish), has no knowledge of. She gradually begins to earn their trust and buys composition books for them to use as diaries, in which they talk about their experiences of being abused, seeing their friends die, and being evicted. Determined to reform her students, Erin takes on two part-time jobs to pay for more books and activities, and spends a lot more time at school, much to the disappointment of her husband (Patrick Dempsey). A transformation is specifically visible in one student, Marcus (Jason Finn). Erin 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. The students start to realize that being rivals against each other, just because of their race, shouldn't be a reason to prohibit their friendships with one another. Meanwhile, her unique training methods are scorned by her colleagues and department chair Margaret Campbell (Imelda Staunton).
The following school year comes and Erin teaches her class (now sophomores) again, making it the second year that she is their teacher. On the first day, Erin makes her class propose 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 (Pat Carroll) come to the United States and tell her story of her helping Anne Frank, her family, and the Van Pels hide from the Nazis; she then also persuades 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 tell the truth, breaking free of the demands of her father to always protect her own. At Grant's trial, she shocks the courtroom by revealing that Paco actually killed Sindy's boyfriend in the store; Grant is spared of being convicted and Sindy later forgives Eva. Afterward, Eva is attacked and threatened, but ultimately spared by her fellow gang members, and moves in with her aunt for safety.
Meanwhile, Erin 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, since he feels like Erin is devoting too much of her time to her students and not enough time for their marriage. Margaret tells her she cannot teach her kids for their junior year. Erin fights this decision, eventually convincing the superintendent to permit her to teach her kids during their junior and senior years, much to their elation. The film ends with a note that Erin successfully prepared numerous high school students to graduate 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
- 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's Mother
- Pat Carroll as Miep Gies
- Chil Kong as gas station 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 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, 70% 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:
- "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
- "Actor's death eerily similar to film role". Orange County Register. July 14, 2012. Retrieved March 2, 2018.
- Freedom Writers at Rotten Tomatoes
- "Freedom Writers". Metacritic. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
- "Freedom Writers". Common Sense Media. 2008-10-30. 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 on IMDb
- 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