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 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10 million
Box office $31,906,454

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 on the New Jersey Minimum Basics Test. 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]

Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, is plagued with numerous problems, especially those dealing with drugs and gang violence. Furthermore, the students are receiving low scores on the state's basic skills test.

During the opening credits sequence (in 1987), after a teacher is brutally beaten for trying to break up a fight and the state legislature has recently passed a law proclaiming that schools that cannot meet minimum test requirements will be put in receivership, Mayor Bottman (Alan North) consults school superintendent Dr. Frank Napier, (Robert Guillaume), who suggests the school hire elementary school principal Joe Clark, aka "Crazy Joe" (Freeman), who was a teacher at Eastside High 20 years before, as the new principal. The mayor is reluctant at first, knowing about the trouble that the radical Clark has caused in the past. But Clark is hired, and things immediately get tense after Clark dismisses from the school 300 students identified as drug dealers or abusers and troublemakers. A meeting between the parents of those students and the academic board only fans the flames as the parents side with their trouble-making children and Clark refuses to re-admit any of them back to school.

The next day, Clark runs into one of the expelled youths, Thomas Sams (Jermaine 'Huggy' Hopkins), asking to be let back into the school. In a dramatic rooftop scene, Clark gives him a sharp lecture about crack and what can happen to Sams if he kept on using it. Clark then dares Sams to commit suicide by jumping off the roof, but Sams, breaking down in tears, refuses and makes a promise to clean up his act. Clark reluctantly grants him a second chance to turn things around. However, another dismissed student manages to get inside the school and attack another student before Clark comes to break up the fight. Knowing he is breaking the fire code, Clark orders all doors chained and locked during school hours to keep drug dealers and gang members out. Also, the students show no improvement in taking a practice version of the basic skills test (Passing was 33% below, as seen on the test score sheet presented to Clark by Ms. Levias).

Clark does not put up with teachers who disagree with him either, especially those who do so in front of the students. One of his rash firings is reversed by the superintendent. Meanwhile, one parent whose drug-dealing son was expelled from Eastside by Clark, a local activist named Leonna Barrett (Lynne Thigpen), aligns herself with the mayor in an effort to oust Clark for her own personal agenda. The fire chief eventually catches Clark not just for having chains on the doors, but conspiring to have them removed during surprise inspections.

Clark's arrest comes after a key scene involving Kaneesha (Karen Malina White), who remembers Clark from grade school. Clark is offering counsel about Kaneesha's unplanned pregnancy just before he is arrested.

That night, while Clark is in jail and the mayor is preparing to remove him, 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 for principal of Eastside, and asks that they return to their homes before any trouble starts. But the students claim that Clark cares for them and has done so much good that they will not accept anyone else as their principal.

Clark receives notice that enough students passed the basic skills exam which results in the current administration retaining control over the school. He is subsequently released from custody. With that, Clark shuns both Mrs. Barrett and the mayor: "You can tell the State to go to hell!" Then Clark leads his students in singing Eastside High's school song (several scenes throughout the movie find Clark insisting that each student be taught to perform the school song on demand). The closing credits feature scenes of graduating Eastside High Class of 1988 seniors.



On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 69%, based on 16 reviews, with an average rating of 5.8/10.[1] On CinemaScore, audiences gave the film a rare grade of "A+" on an A+ to F scale.

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


  1. ^ "Lean on Me". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 9, 2015. 

External links[edit]

]]Category:Films shot in New Jersey]]