The movie Freedom Writers is an inspiring American drama based on the story of Ms. Erin Gruwell, a passionate and resilient teacher that in the early ‘90s started her career in a suburb school of Los Angeles, where she confronted students with difficult past and uncertain future.
The strong impact she experienced right after arriving in that chaotic environment is easily perceivable through the first scenes of the movie, as well as somehow comprehensible for those who are not familiar with the kind of life victims of racial discrimination were forced to lead.
Many fellow teachers were convinced that the integration that was going on at the time in Woodrow Wilson High School, in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, had decreased the academic level of the school, whose students were not interested in any form of education anymore and oddly would have never finish their studies. Even if, in the beginning, Ms. Gruwell’s students were not ready to accept any type of help nor on an educational level or a more profound and interior one, as time passed, they became more and more open to the idea of fraternalize not only with people of their ethnic group but also members of rival gangs.
The effort they had to make to put aside their pride and instilled prejudice for those who were not of their own had driven some characters to question themselves and make major steps in the direction of fairness and justice, far away from the shady businesses and modi vivendi. This change was possible because in the way other classmates perceived the racial tension and the oppression they were subjected to, each of them saw their own experience. Their stories, their perception of life and their fading but persistent hopes were written, collected and published in a book named Freedom Writers Diary, a slight reference to the Freedom Riders, who were civil rights activist who rode buses interstate into the segregated Southern United States in 1961 in mixed racial groups to protest against local laws that enforced segregation in seating.
Moreover, we have to keep in mind the fact that the racial tension within Los Angeles during the first years of the ‘90s was tremendously elevated and during 1992 it escalated up to the point where major events, such as the unmotivated beating of Rodney King perpetuated the LAPD and the killing of Latasha Harlins (two members of the BIPOC community), led to a series of riots gone down in history as The 1992 Los Angeles uprising. By the time the riots ended, more than 2000 people had been injured, 63 had been killed, 12000 protestants had been arrested, and even after that, almost 30 years later, we are still witnesses of police brutality, of a sad and barren world that with its prejudice and resentment undermine the possibility to hope for more cultivable and open-minded land.
In the movie, the light of hope was carried by Ms. Gruwell, who fought from day one for what she believed in, doing everything in her power to break the walls that separated their students from each other, but more importantly from their better version. Ms. Gruwell pushed herself as far as she could, by sacrificing her personal and professional life to her ideals and higher values, even if nobody ever asked her to, because, quoting the teacher herself, “why do I have to be asked?”. It is extremely important and, I venture to say, even necessary to participate in this great mission of reshaping the world in a more fair, non-discriminatory, peaceful and sustainable one by thinking about others’ needs, speaking up for those whose voice is not strong enough and acting for their good, even if nobody is expecting you to do so.