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FREEDOM WRITERS

Lenyn A. Lara Bonfil

The 1992 Los Angeles disturbance is the departing point for the
story told by Freedom Writers, a film based on historic facts the diaries
of a group of teenager high school students- around the above
mentioned episode of the American black history. The disturbance, in
which more than 120 people were killed, derived from a case of police
brutality against Rodney King, an Afro-American citizen. The film is a
clear image of the social situation in Los Angeles during the early 1990s.

The plot focuses on the lives of a group of teenagers belonging to the


low social class of people engaged in gangs. The school where the action
takes place is a sort of mixing-bowl for immigrants from different places
of the world; a mixture of races whose only real link is rivalry and hatred.
Perhaps it is no correct to use the word mixture, at least not in a wide
sense: this story is about people who look like a multicultural mixture
but, in fact, they are profoundly separate because of the differences
among them. First of all, race or color as some of the boys says:
everything is about color. They are divided by their own will, organized
in gangs, according to their ethnic groups. Four races seem to represent
the main conflict: Afro-Americans, Latin-Americans, Asians, and white
Americans though in a very small number. The atmosphere in the
school is characterized by gang violence and racial tension. Every group
or gang- is obliged to support and take care of their own people;
struggling against the others is their normal state and main duty. School
is an obligation that most of them carried on against their will.

Race, pride, and respect are the three components which unite to form
the leitmotif of the film: a highly tribal feeling. This is the chaotic social
pit where Erin Gruwell, a rookie English Language teacher, is immersed
by her own will, despite she seems to belong to an obvious higher social
class. It is her first job as a teacher, however and she is not aware of
this in the beginning- she is more than a teacher: she is a social worker.
Jamal, Santiago, Nuez, Ngor, are some of the surnames that Erin finds
in the group she has been assigned to. The classroom becomes a battle-
field the very day she started teaching. Violence continues along the
following days but Erin is not to give up easily. A startling fact brings her
to a brilliant idea which will bond the students as a real group and to
stop internal rivalries: none of them knows anything about the
Holocaust, none but one: the only white boy in the class. By introducing
their students to the reading Ana Franks Diary, she manages to make
them see violence from a different point of view, so they can see what
racial discrimination can cause. Then she provides each one with a
journal and asks them to keep a diary on it. The diaries will be as private
as they want: they can share their writings with her, whenever they want
to. Surprisingly, most of them let their teacher to read about their lives.
Hardship, violence, all kinds of suffering, utterly rough lives. This is how
a new and very different gang is born, the so called Freedom Writers.

The whole group was so moved by Ana Franks Diary that eventually
they manage to bring Miep Gies the woman who supposedly sheltered
Ana Frank- to give a conference in their school. In the end and perhaps
the most important of the film content-, it is another story about the
more recent tragedy of the Jewish people. It is remarkable how the
screenwriter achieved such a goal: making the Holocaust fit into the
structure of the gangs conflict in the shaken Los Angeles of the 1990s.