Some Long Beach, Calif., residents are rankled about the portrayal of the high school and students who inspired the film Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank. According to The L.A. Times, some folks “aren’t happy with its portrayal of the true story of Long Beach teacher Erin Gruwell and her at-risk students, saying it offers an oversimplified, insulting narrative about the community: poor racial minorities triumph over lazy, jealous teachers and The Man.” They point out that many of the school’s students are middle-class and white — some of them very affluent — and many of Gruwell’s fellow teachers supported her efforts.
Gruwell herself defends the film, saying it’s an accurate portrayal of the student demographic in the mid-’90s, when the film is set.
Maybe if the filmmakers had approached the subject differently, potential viewers wouldn’t be thinking, haven’t I already seen this one? But at the same time, maybe people just need to be less concerned about how the school is portrayed in a film that isn’t even a documentary, and realize that the kind of racism and adversity the movie depicts might be the norm, rather than the exception, in many classrooms across the country. Doesn’t that deserve more attention than the historical accuracy of a Hollywood production?
Some of the “Freedom Writers” are pictured here, on set for the film.