There's an interesting debate going on in the comments on the IMDb page for the upcoming film Freedom Writers about whether Hollywood focuses too much on movies about white teachers changing the lives of poor, minority students. The film tells the true story of Erin Gruwell, a young (white) teacher who, wanting to do something with her life that would make a difference, chose to take her first job teaching Freshman and Sophomore English at Woodrow Wilson High to a group of kids who have been integrated into the formerly "good" -- read: white -- school, much to the resentment of the long-time (middle-aged, white) teachers who have been at Wilson since the good old days, before all those minority kids came in.

The idealistic Gruwell is flummoxed at first around how to deal with her students, who hate her even more than they hate each other, but she finds a way to help the kids find common ground, and to find the potential buried deep within each of them. Gruwell has her students start keeping journals about their lives, which eventually are published into a book called The Freedom Writers.

A reader in the comments thread went off on a diatribe about the film being yet another "great white hope" film about a white schoolteacher saving the day with minority kids; other readers have fired back that this film is based on a true story, that it's inspiring regardless of the color of Erin Gruwell's skin. Other comments have opined that only minority teachers can really understand minority students, or that there are lots of inspirational stories about minority teachers out there that Hollywood doesn't make into films.

I just saw Freedom Writers last night, and will have a review of the film closer to its January release date, but suffice it for now to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the film and that the story of Gruwell and her students was moving and well-told -- and that I was glad I skipped wearing my non-waterproof mascara. I can think of quite a few equally inspiring films that don't tell stories involving white "saviors" -- Stand and Deliver, Coach Carter, and Remember the Titans were all brought up in the discussion thread, but there are also recent documentaries like last year's Rize and Favela Rising that tell stories of minority adults reaching out to help the kids in their communties through dance and music, respectively.

What do you think about the issue being discussed on IMDb? Does Hollywood send the message that only whites can save poor minorities, while ignoring a plethora of inspirational stories about minority teachers (or other adults) helping students? Or is an inspirational story simply inspiring, regardless of the issue of race?

categories Movies, Cinematical