It's 1994 in Long Beach, California. Idealistic Erin Gruwell is just starting her first teaching job, that as freshman and sophomore English teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School, which, two years earlier, implemented a voluntary integration program. For many of the existing teachers, the integration has ruined the school, whose previously stellar academic standing has been replaced with many students who will be lucky to graduate or even be literate. Despite choosing the school on purpose because of its integration program, Erin is unprepared for the nature of her classroom, whose students live by generations of strict moral codes of protecting their own at all cost. Many are in gangs and almost all know somebody that has been killed by gang violence. The Latinos hate the Cambodians who hate the blacks and so on. The only person the students hate more is Ms. Gruwell. It isn't until Erin holds an unsanctioned discussion about a recent drive-by shooting death that she fully begins to ... Written by
by Talib Kweli, Kwamé (as Kwame Holland) & Fred Williams
Performed by Talib Kweli
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records, Inc.
By Arrangement with Warner Music Group Film & TV Licensing
Contains a sample of "Tell Her" by Fred Williams
Performed by Fred Williams & the Jewels Band
Courtesy of Jazzman Records, Ltd. See more »
I saw this film on December 13th, 2006 in Indianapolis. I am one of the judges for the Heartland Film Festival's Truly Moving Picture Award. A Truly Moving Picture " explores the human journey by artistically expressing hope and respect for the positive values of life." Heartland gave that award to this film.
Woodrow Wilson High School is located in Long Beach, California. The school is voluntarily integrated, and it isn't working. The Asians, the Blacks, the Latinos, and a very few whites not only don't get along, but also stay with their own and are part of protective and violent gangs. There isn't much teaching or learning going on at the school. It is a warehouse for young teenagers until they can drop out or are kicked out.
With this background, an idealistic teacher (Hilary Swank) arrives to teach Freshmen English. She is very educated, pretty, middle class, non-ethnic, well-dressed, and smart. From day one, she doesn't fit in the classroom with these tough kids, and she doesn't fit in with the faculty, who have all but given up and resigned themselves to being the keepers of the student warehouse.
But our idealistic teacher will not give up. She slowly and painfully tries to teach by first learning about " the pain " the students feel. She encourages each of her students to keep a journal of their painful and difficult life, and then to share the journal with her. She also attempts to get the four ethnic groups to come together by getting them to recognize what they have in common; specifically, their music, their movies, their broken families, and their broken community surroundings.
While struggling with the students, she has to deal at the same time with two complicated and demanding male relationships. Her husband (Patrick Dempsey) is often supportive, but often jealous of her time commitments. Her father (Scott Glenn) is often disappointed of her career choice, but often proud of her courage and tenacity.
This story feels real. It is beautifully done. The acting of Swank, Dempsey and Glenn is professional and believable. More importantly the story highlights our society's challenges in schooling the children of poor and one-parent families.
The movie doesn't give miracle answers. But it does give hope. And in the end, sincere effort appears to count for something maybe everything.
FYI There is a Truly Moving Pictures web site where there is a listing of past Truly Moving Picture Award winners that are now either at the theater or available on video.
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