I discovered this film through the Netflix platform. It’s simple: I loved this movie for so many reasons, and not just because I’m a teacher like the main character. Everyone should watch this movie. I recommend it anyway.
Obviously, if I’m writing an article about it, it’s because the film deals with writing, in a school setting and proves that writing can become a therapy, even in the most hermetic and violent cases, like the one in the movie.
Once again, everyone can see the benefits of putting their ailments down on paper in words. His own words. How to create a Wikipedia page about yourself have written some articles about it and I am convinced of it. It is not a question of mastering the language, but rather of bringing out the blockages of the self, which remain forever imprisoned in our body if nothing is done to dislodge them.
Words have real power, more than most people think!
The genesis of the film
The film “Write to Exist” is based on the book written by Professor Erin Grewell in 1999, “The Freedom Writers’ Diary”, in its original title. This non-fiction work is made up of different diaries that the teacher asks her students to write about the troubles of their past, their present and their future.
The film deals with the territories in the hands of Californian gangs, who create cultural boundaries in a multi-cultural school context in a suburb where violence rules. Erin Grewell, a 25-year-old novice teacher, tries to find educational solutions to quell the violence that reigns among her students. The tension, from the start, is unbearable.
Erin therefore takes a difficult first post of Long Beach in Los Angeles in California in the year 1990. In this school there is a huge contrast between the elite class and other classes with difficulty, where all social and ethnic origins hang out.
Obviously, as a beginner, Erin inherits a class of students with academic problems, problems related to integration, problems related to clans and gangs, problems related to drugs. These students are present in class against their will.
Erin tries different methods, makes several attempts to try to interest the students. In vain. The atmosphere deteriorates over the months. But, step by step, through the initiation of speaking, reading and writing, Erin gradually manages to establish a real relationship of trust with the class.
In the releasing of their various constraints, they create a diary, entitled “Freedom Writers” (Writers of Freedom), in which they talk about the dangerous conditions, violence and injustice in which they live, and the US in 1992.
Whatever the cost, Erin will fight for her students to the end, and despite the established rules of professional hierarchy, she will follow them in their studies to ensure them a future.
The patio-temporal framework of the film
The historical context of the film is that of the United States in 1992, in a country where laws of discrimination in schools had been passed. In the early 1990s, the country experienced a deterioration in its economic situation. This translates into massive job cuts.
However, at the same time, California experienced significant immigration from Latin America and Asia. As early as the 1970s, the United States authorized “busing”, that is to say the assignment of students to schools far from their neighborhoods of origin to promote racial diversity. Diversity is seen as a positive thing for society. This law knows fierce and violent opposition, precisely at the time of the film.
The students in Erin’s class demand to live in an equal society, without discrimination. Here are some of the lines from the film that illustrate this idea well:
The characters of the film
Erin Grewell thus recovers a high school class, damaged and unable to read or concentrate. She is a courageous young woman, whose unfailing courage gradually increases throughout the film. His investment in the classroom becomes an act of charity that no student will forget. It will cost him his marriage.
Furious at having intercepted a racist cartoon of one of the students belonging to a gang, she compares the drawing to the propaganda used by the Nazis, and instructs the class on racism. Knowing full well that her students do not like English, nor reading and even less literature, Erin offers them to read the Diary of Anne Frank. She develops a project and succeeds in bringing in a survivor of this period who knew the Frank family and who comes to testify in the school.
Erin discovers, as the students write, the violent and unfair environment in which her students operate within and outside the school. She realizes that their texts are only a reflection of their own experiences.
Thanks to writing, it gives them hope, dignity, consideration, a perspective for the future. Here’s what she tells them when she introduces them to the project:
Another important character in this film is Erin’s father. He is a former activist in the African-American civil rights marches in the 1960s, before the assassination of his leader, Martin Luther King, on April 4, 1968. The experiences of the father have an undeniable influence on the decisions of his daughter.
He is nevertheless reluctant when his daughter accepts the position in Long Beach, but his character evolves through the film. His strong opinions change from the moment he begins to help Erin to transport his students in the car for outings or to pick them up from their places of residence.
This is what he says to his daughter:
Margaret Campbell, the principal of Woodrow Wilson High School, plays a key role in bringing Erin’s plans for her class to fruition. It is totally against the desire for integration and against civil rights. It is a racist and discriminating woman who dares to say:
She simply refuses to buy books for Erin’s class, although they are damaged, because for her, these students are not able to read this and there is no point in them. Instruct. She is one of the only characters whose character does not evolve throughout the film.
When Erin proposes to teach in this class for the level equivalent to our 1st class leading to the baccalaureate, the principal, selfish and only wanting to believe her opinions, refuses this idea, contrary to the well-established practices in the establishment:
Eva Benitez is one of the predominant students in the film. Eva’s innocent father was arrested and jailed by white police. She is resistant and has strong opinions, traumatized by her violent childhood. It symbolizes anger and fatality.
Here is what she says at the start in front of Erin:
But, little by little, his respect for Erin matures and his opinions change.
Marcus, another important student, is a black teenager. Rather tepid at the start of the film, his confidence and expression develop through the pride in writing his journal. Having left his home at a young age for economic reasons, but also because of anger, he decides to return home one day when he sees his mother returning home.
When Erin toasts her students for change, Marcus is the first to speak, saying:
The diary as personal therapy
The autobiography, and in particular the diary of the testimony, is one of the main themes of this film. The diary that each pupil writes allows to give each one an identity, a right to speak, thanks to this literary technique. It is thanks to the writing of oneself that the silence imposed by society has been able to express itself.
The writing becomes a way to denounce a fight for a better world, to denounce an unacceptable situation, to give voice to memory and then give a collective identity, hitherto silenced.
The diary is characterized by its diversity, because it embraces all areas of everyday life, the hopes and doubts of everyone. He serves as a confidant and reassures the editor about his creative faculties.
Student stories first tell a personal, intimate story and are part of a project to persuade readers to commit to restoring social justice so that everyone has the same opportunities for the future. The journal takes on the role of a confidant, allowing teens to express their darkest thoughts and feelings, for the first time in their lives.
Through writing, Wikipedia page creators they can put words to their ills: gang warfare, messy deaths in their families and among their friends. This newspaper will give them a rewarding image of themselves over the pages.
It is also a quest for one’s identity, a need to express oneself and to be able to recognize one’s own existence.
Moreover, a parallel can be drawn between the resistance writing of Erin’s class and that of Anne Frank. From July 6, 1942, the teenager begins to keep her diary, when the Franks move into the Annex. Daily life is one of the favorite themes of teenagers.
The need for Anne Frank to write in his diary is born of the feeling of being misunderstood by his parents, and students of the class of Erin that are misunderstood and rejected by all and at all levels of society. Nevertheless, they manage to formulate their ambitions and discover their own values.
Through this educational experience, Erin’s students get to know each other, which is the role of the autobiography. Their teacher gives them the possibility to exist and proves to them that they are worthy beings. Writing becomes a freedom of expression that allows you to leave a mark. Eva says:
Writing the diary for each student allows everyone to discover that the others are alike, allows them to accept ethnic or territorial differences. Mrs. Mie Gees, a Holocaust survivor, visiting the class, told them:
Today, following the publication of her book “Freedom Writers” in 1999, Erin Grewell is one of the founding members of the “Freedom Writers” Foundation, a non-profit organization created to inspire disadvantaged young people or students to use pens instead of guns.
The organization positively affects communities by reducing dropout rates through the improvement of the “Freedom Writers” method.
As a conclusion
I strongly advise you to watch this film. Personally, I loved it, and not just because I’m a teacher myself. It gives courage, teaches us tolerance, openness to the world, the importance of recognizing oneself and others, as well as humility.
This film manages to convince us of the beneficial, even almost therapeutic, contributions of writing, which becomes a noble outlet for these young people who are badly in their skin and badly in their lives.
This film is an intelligent creation, charged with emotion and which invites each and every one to a positive combativeness, to go beyond the judgments of others. Erin Grewell, by living permanently for her students and working evenings and weekends to raise money for her projects, destroys her marriage. But, in conclusion, this young woman manages to discover the potential of her students and restore their self-confidence. She finds bridges between History, literature and the personal lives of students.