Movie Analysis: Freedom Writers

| December 16, 2020

The movie ‘Freedom Writers’ was released in 2006 and directed by Richard LaGravenese. It tells a real-life story about a novice Caucasian and educated teacher called Erin Gruwell, who teaches first-year students in long beach Los Angeles. The film is set against the 1992 Los Angeles riots where minority communities were outraged by Rodney king’s police acquittal. The students comprise various cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds and are considered un-teachable by the government. Different backgrounds or geographies impact the humans that live there hence developing certain cultures. Cultural geography compares how the various cultures impact the lifestyles, and customs are affected by geographical locations. Cultural, The students’ cultural geography in the film consists of African-American, Latino (Hispanic), Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Caucasians. Cultures impact the way students participate in education, and hence it is the teachers’ responsibility to know their students and academic capabilities individually. The movie Freedom Writers brings out the relation between education and cultural geography represented by the Hispanics, African-Americans, and Cambodians.


The film portrays the teenagers in negative stereotypes such as racists, violent, uneducated people, and people involved in gangs and drugs. Teenagers in the movie are at the age they are fully aware of the cultural differences and are not sure how to respond due to the prejudices and stereotypes they uphold. Preconceptions and stereotypes create hostility and tolerance (Farber, 803). Even though teenagers are not all members of the same cultural group, they behave the same. For example, one Hispanic girl by the name of Eva was brought up amidst violence and crime. She remarked that ‘school is like a city; the city is like a prison, divided into separate sections depending on tribes…Cambodia, Ghetto, Wonderbread Land, South of Border….outsiders looking in can never see it – but we can feel it'(LaGravenese, 21:45-24:13). The film’s Hispanic teenagers are depicted as people who look to each other for confirmation and solidarity; they have a collectivist characteristic. The teacher, Erin Gruwell, tries to understand her students but knows the barriers she must overcome. She devised a game that would bring a sense of community in her classroom, which showed the teenagers they had similarities in music, food, and social activities.

Subcultures such as African-Americans exist within dominant cultures, which impact the way they engage in education, values, beliefs, dress code, music, and body language. The film brings out a strong uncertainty avoidance culture; when Eric Gruwell asks an African-American student male to respect her, the male student responds by saying that he does not know her and asked why he should respect her (LaGravenese, 31:12-34:23). People who display uncertainty avoidance tend to be aggressive, compulsive, and intolerant. Another attribute is power relation in the group with the lack of trust and respect for white people in power (Cosgrove, 124). Erin’s main task was to educate the teenagers, but she must first overcome the cultural barrier and introduce common values and beliefs to her students. Erin had to gather more information from her students to better understand them: she issued diaries to record their daily thoughts. Erin soon found out that one African American student had witnessed the accidental shooting of his childhood friend. Still, the police officers arrested him and were incarcerated in a juvenile institution. This experience brought out the young man’s aggressiveness and contentious nature, but the diary helped him reveal a sensitive and caring nature through poetry and hip hop.

The film also tells the story of a young withdrawn, isolated and insecure Cambodian girl. The Cambodian girl displayed individualist traits; quietness, not part of any group, and had a direct approach when questioned. In her diary, she explains how she left Cambodia as a refuge and that her family was separated during the war(LaGravenese, 41:35-42:23). She moved to the United States of America as an immigrant, so she has been completely overwhelmed by the experiences and culture change she has to integrate. For example, she did not understand how there was conflict again after the war, and this time Cambodians with Hispanics. She had an emotional and physiological reaction described as culture shock brought about by sudden immersion in a new and different culture. She was losing contact with her ethnic group and failing to connect with a new larger culture. Erin Gruwell educated the teenagers about Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl persecuted by Nazis during the Second World War. After the students learned about her recorded experiences in a diary, they finally managed to overcome their differences.

The students in the film’ freedom writers’ were separated by cultural geography. Erin Gruwell learned that her class was unwilling to learn and listen to what she had to say, so she thought outside the box. She made her lessons relate to her students’ struggles and ended up saving and educating them. Cultural tendencies impact the way people engage in their day to day activities. It is essential to understand people’s behaviors and traditions, and by knowing the physical environment where people come from, people get to understand these traditions of people.

Works cited

Cosgrove, Denis. “Geography is everywhere: culture and symbolism in human landscapes.” Loughborough University of Technology 2014 pp119-135

Farber, Jerry, “The Third Circle: On Education and Distance Learning” University of California PressVol. 41, No. 4, 2008 pp. 797-814.

LaGravenese, Richard. Freedom WritersParamount Pictures2007.

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