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Review: Freedom Writers

I watched this film on a whim as it came in the library yesterday and I had nothing planned for last night. I actually quite enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. It's one of those "teacher wins over and inspires tough students through love" stories in the vein of Take the Lead, Dangerous Minds, To Sir with Love, etc. What I found most likeable about this one--besides being a true story--is that the goals are achieved through reading and writing. Inner-city kids, caught in the middle of gang wars and race riots, read The Diary of Anne Frank and keep their own diaries about what they face each day.

(I'm a mushball, okay??)

What I find particularly realistic is how the teacher has to fight the school board every step of the way and takes on part-time jobs in order to get the funds to buy the students their own books. A cute scene involves a student whispering in disbelief as they flip through a novel, "It's new!!" I teach a fair bit and can get downright depressed at times dealing with students, and I deal with ones who have money to pay to go to school. I can only imagine how disheartening it is to deal with high school students. I remarked to a work colleague that when I move to Texas I was contemplating teaching and was advised not to. "Not that you wouldn't be great at it," they said, "it's just unimaginably tough. And I've been there."

The one thing that did seriously bug the shit out of me was that the teacher's husband divorces her at the end because he can't handle her being at work all the time (or doing work projects at home) rather than--what exactly? Cook for him? Wipe his ass? It's unclear exactly what's going on beyond him being intimidated by her success and his own cowardice about returning to school for a masters. Now here's the thing: this didn't happen in real life. The real teacher, as far as I know, is still married and teaching in California. So this pop-culture conflict seems to either emanate from a screenwriter's desire to bring in more conflict (as if race, money, and politics weren't enough) or from the overhyped (largely upper-middle-class) crisis of woman's career v. personal happiness/family/crap. Naturally I find this insulting as all hell on multiple levels. Sure, it's hard to balance job and family, but clearly it's manageable by pretty much most of the human race. The film also doesn't touch on it more than a "the students are family" type note so I'm not sure what we're supposed to get from the husband beyond that he's a douchebag. That felt very uneven and more of a "you can't have it all" type message.

So why can't we have it all?


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