Lean on Me (film)

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Lean on Me
Lean on Me (poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn G. Avildsen
Written byMichael Schiffer
Produced byNorman Twain
Starring
CinematographyVictor Hammer
Edited by
Music byBill Conti
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • March 3, 1989 (1989-03-03) (United States)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$10 million
Box office$31 million

Lean on Me is a 1989 American biographical drama film written by Michael Schiffer, directed by John G. Avildsen and starring Morgan Freeman. It is based on the story of Joe Louis Clark, a real life inner city high school principal in Paterson, New Jersey, whose school is in danger of being placed into receivership of the New Jersey state government unless students improve their test scores on the New Jersey Minimum Basic Skills Test. This film's title refers to the 1972 Bill Withers song of the same name, which is used in the film. Parts of the film, including the elementary school scenes, were filmed in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.

Plot[edit]

In 1987, the once idyllic Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, has deteriorated due to drug abuse and crime running rampant throughout the school. The majority of students cannot pass basic skills testing, and even the teachers are not safe from gang violence.

Mayor Bottman (Alan North) learns that the school will be turned over to state administration unless 75% of the students can pass the minimum basic skills test. He consults with school superintendent Dr. Frank Napier (Robert Guillaume), who suggests they hire Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman), a former teacher of Eastside High who was forcibly transferred years before due to budget cuts, as the new school principal. Reluctantly, the mayor hires Clark.

Known as "Crazy Joe", Clark's immediate radical changes include expelling 300 students identified as drug dealers or abusers and troublemakers, instituting programs to improve school spirit including painting over graffiti-covered walls, and requiring students to learn the school song, and be punished if they cannot sing it on demand. When one of the expelled students is found beating up another student, Clark orders the doors of the school chained shut during school hours since funds are insufficient to purchase security doors.

Clark's actions begin to have a positive effect on his students. He encounters Thomas Sams (Jermaine Hopkins), a young student expelled for crack use, who pleads to be allowed back into school. Clark escorts Sams up to the roof of the school; there he viciously berates the boy for using crack, demanding that he jump off the edge of the building. Clark is (secretly) elated, when the now-hysterical Sams refuses to jump and proceeds to turn himself around. Clark also reunites one of his old elementary school students, Kaneesha Carter (Karen Malina White), with her estranged mother.

Some parents react strongly to these measures, particularly Leonna Barrett (Lynne Thigpen) -- the mother of one of the expelled students, who presses the mayor to oust Clark.

Clark's radicalism brings him into conflict with his own faculty, notably: Mr. Darnell (Michael Beach), an English teacher, whom Clark suspends for picking up a piece of trash during a recital of the school song; Mrs. Elliot (Robin Bartlett), a music teacher, whom Clark fires for being insubordinate after he cancels a long-planned choral event (the school's upcoming annual Lincoln Center concert). Napier lectures Clark over these incidents, demanding that he act as a team player; Clark subsequently re-instates Mr. Darnell.

Unfortunately, a practice basic skills test fails to garner enough passing students. Clark confronts his staff for their failure to educate their students, and to prepare them for the world. Clark institutes a tutorial program to strengthen academic skills; he also encourages remedial reading courses on Saturdays, so that parents may attend alongside their children if they want (or need) to.

When the day for the minimum basic skills test finally arrives, the students are much better prepared and filled with a sense of self-worth. Before the scores can be calculated, the fire chief raids the school and discovers the chained doors. Clark is arrested for violating fire safety codes. That evening, the students gather at the meeting of the Paterson Board of Education, where school board member Leonna is leading the call for Clark's removal.

The students demand that Clark be released from jail and retained as principal. The mayor has Clark released from jail, so that he may urge the children to return home for their own safety. He is interrupted by assistant principal Ms. Levias, who reports that more than 75% of the students have passed the basic skills test. He announces the results over his megaphone.

As a result, the school's current administration remains intact. Clark is allowed to keep his job as principal, as he cheerfully informs the mayor that "You can tell the State to go to hell." The students celebrate by breaking into their school song. The film ends with the senior students, including Sams, graduating high school (amid the closing credits); Clark hands them their diplomas.

Cast[edit]

Music[edit]

Songs included in the film include:

Reception[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 68%, based on 19 reviews, with an average rating of 5.8/10.[2] On CinemaScore, audiences gave the film a rare grade of "A+" on an A+ to F scale.

Awards and honors[edit]

1989 NAACP Image Awards

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)

Other honors

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Aborted television adaptation[edit]

On September 13, 2018, it was reported that a television series based on the film was in development at The CW. The project, hailing from Warner Bros. Television, was written by Wendy Calhoun, with LeBron James, Maverick Carter, John Legend, Mike Jackson and Ty Stiklorius also set to executive produce. The female-led drama was to center around "when a spirited young black teacher [named] Amarie Baldwin scores the principal job at an Akron, Ohio public high school, she must dig deep to transform a failing campus into an urban oasis. In a time when education and school safety have life-or-death stakes, Amarie will take on a broken system that tests her mettle, love life and family. But can she keep her moxie in check in order to embody the aspirational educator that motivates and uplifts an entire community?"[6] On February 8, 2019, it was revealed that the script was not picked up to pilot.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lentz, Philip (26 March 1989). "Joe Clark's Fame Marred By Squabbling, Less-supportive Figures". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 26 May 2016. ...Mayor Frank X. Graves, who, unlike the mayor portrayed in the movie...
  2. ^ "Lean on Me". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 5, 2022.
  3. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
  4. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
  5. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
  6. ^ Petski, Denise (September 13, 2018). "The CW Developing Female-Led 'Lean On Me' Drama Based On Movie From Wendy Calhoun, LeBron James & John Legend". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved September 20, 2018.
  7. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (February 8, 2019). "'The 4400' & 'The L.A. Complex' Reboots And 'Good Christian Bitches' Rolled To Next Season At the CW". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 8, 2019.

External links[edit]