I randomly caught the film a while ago at one of the early evening slots on Film4. It was a perfectly watchable film until I reached the end and discovered it's based on reality. Then it became an inspiring and brilliant film. Hilary Swank plays Erin Gruwell, the young white middle-class teacher assigned to teach the no-hope children who society has given up on.
Watching the film, I found it a little ridiculous. The woman wore pearls for goodness sake! Pearls! In an inner-city school with violent, abusive and aggressive teenagers. As if! Then I saw a photo of the real Erin Gruwell and discovered that in the making of the film, the costume team actually raided Erin's wardrobe! :) So yeah - the woman did wear pearls. Really.
In the film, Gruwell (or Miss G as the kids call her) offers hope to a bunch of teenagers by giving them diaries to write in and getting them to read books like The Diary of Anne Frank and The Color Purple. These diaries are what later get compiled into the book that will be known as The Freedom Writers Diary.
I, of course, got the book after seeing the film. And the entries are even more horrific. These teens open up about abuse, drugs, illness and violence in such a brave and honest way that it is intoxicating! But what makes the book absolutely incredible is that not one of them is moaning. It is honest and real and brutal and not at all cheesy. They are simply trying to make something positive out of a very negative childhood and are trying to spread a message of tolerance to others and that there are alternatives to violence and something worth living for besides drugs - yourself!
It's not all happy endings though (this is real life after all!) but the overwhelming success of Gruwell's influence is phenomenal as many of these "no-hopers" ended up being the first in their families to graduate and many went to university.
The film is good but has been done before - Dangerous Minds, Take the Lead (also a true story) and others - but the book is something else entirely. It takes what they learn in the classroom and spreads to all corners of the globe.
An inspiring, heart-wrenching read that should be made compulsory in all secondary schools across the world!
Film - 3.5/5 FOBLES
Book - 5/5 FOBLES