Lean on Me (film)
|Lean on Me|
|Directed by||John G. Avildsen|
|Written by||Michael Schiffer|
|Produced by||Norman Twain|
|Music by||Bill Conti|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|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.
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.
- Morgan Freeman as Joe Louis Clark
- Beverly Todd as Mrs. Joan Levias
- Robert Guillaume as Dr. Frank Napier
- Alan North as Mayor Don Bottman (based on Frank X. Graves Jr.)
- Lynne Thigpen as Leonna Barrett
- Robin Bartlett as Mrs. Elliott
- Michael Beach as Mr. Larry Darnell
- Ethan Phillips as Mr. Rosenberg
- Sandra Reaves-Phillips as Mrs. Powers
- Sloane Shelton as Mrs. Hamilton
- Jermaine 'Huggy' Hopkins as Thomas Sams
- Karen Malina White as Kaneesha Carter
- Karina Arroyave as Maria
- Ivonne Coll as Mrs. Santos
- Regina Taylor as Mrs. Carter
- Michael P. Moran as Mr. Ed O'Malley
- John Ring as Fire Chief Gaines
- Tyrone Jackson as Clarence
- Alex Romaguera as "Kid" Ray
- Tony Todd as William Wright, Dean of Security
- Mike Starr as Mr. Zirella
- Riff (Michael Best, Steven Capers Jr., Anthony Fuller, Dwayne Jones, and Kenneth Kelly) as the Eastside Songbirds
- Yvette Hawkins as Mrs. Arthur
- Nicole Quinn as Lillian
- Elsie Hilario as Louisa
- Michael A. Joseph as Brian Banes (drug dealer who threatens Clark with switchblade)
- Richard Grusin as Mr. Danley
- Jim Moody as Mr. Lott (prologue)
- Veniece Ross as Sally
- Raul Gonzales as Ramon
- Johanna "Luz" Tolentino as Conchita
- Andre Howell as Reggie
- Nancy Gathers as Tanya
- Corey Ginn as Charles Yale
- Marina Durell as Miss Ruiz
- Nathalee Fairmon as Herself
- Reverend Herschell Slappy as Himself
- Todd Alexander as Derrick
- Anthony Figueroa as Hoodlum at Microphone
- Delilah Cotto as Chita
- Frances Sousa as Francesca
- Robert Kamlot as Photographer
- Linda M. Salgado as Herself
- Markus Toure Boddie as Himself
- Ashon Curvy as Himself
- Michael Imperioli as George (student who gets "expurgated")
- Marcella Lowery as Mrs. Richards
- Jennifer McComb as Ellen (Clark's student in prologue)
- Knowl Johnson as Tom (Clark's student in prologue)
- Anthony G. Avildsen (the director's real-life son) as Clark's student in prologue
- Heather Rose Dominic as Stacey (Clark's student in prologue)
- Bruce Malmuth as the Burger Joint Manager
- Mushond "Steven" Lee as Richard Armand
- Jose R. Severino as John Jones
- Cole Dragone as Boss
- David Nelson as Real Student
Songs included in the film include:
- "Eastside High School Alma Mater", written by Catherine Peragallo Miller
- "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses
- "I Ain't Makin' It" by Daddy-O and DBC
- "Lean on Me" by Thelma Houston
- "Lean on Me" by Club Nouveau
- "Rap Summary (Lean on Me)" by Big Daddy Kane
- "You are the one" by TKA
- "Skeezer" by Roxanne Shante
- "After 12" by Force M.D.'s
- "All the way to love" by Siedah Garrett
- "Everybody is somebody" by RIFF, Teen Dream, and Taja Sevelle
- "Hit the road Jack" by Percy Mayfield
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. On CinemaScore, audiences gave the film a rare grade of "A+" on an A+ to F scale.
Awards and honors
- 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)
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2003: AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
- 2004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
- 2006: AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – Nominated
Aborted television adaptation
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?" On February 8, 2019, it was revealed that the script was not picked up to pilot.
- 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...
- "Lean on Me". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 5, 2022.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.
- 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.
- 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.