Films are an important feature of popular culture but can they also be a vehicle for theological enquiry? Veritas thinks they can! Every month during the Year of Faith, we offer a Film of the Month,which we invite you to watch, reflect on and discuss. As an initiative for the Year of Faith, you might like to start a Year of Faith Film Club in your work, school or parish community, where these films can be discussed and shared. Film reviews are kindly provided by Fr John-Paul Sheridan PhD.
Film of the Month for April: Freedom Writers
‘In order for the oppressed to be able to wage the struggle for their liberation, they must perceive the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation which they can transform.’
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paolo Freire
The film this week is not overtly religious, but it has an inherent message of hope throughout. It tells the story of a young teacher, Erin Gruwell, who begins teaching in an integrated school in Los Angeles. She soon realises that a conventional curriculum does not and will never suit a class of students who spend their days trying to survive. They are members of gangs, surrounded on a daily basis by violence and ‘tribal’ warfare. Added to this are the teenage problems of trying to make meaning of life, the desire to be understood and respected, of needing boundaries, and needing to be allowed to spread their wings.
The story takes place during the years 1993–96, in the time immediately after the riots in South Central Los Angeles in 1992 following the acquittal of police officers for the beating of Rodney King. Erin challenges the status quo of the classroom and teaches the student to think differently. While it might be said that she changes their lives by exposing them to a world of possibilities and new horizons, it might also be said that the success of her teaching was that she gave of herself and made the students realise that she valued them, and that they should learn to respect each other, and most importantly, themselves.
The title is based the term ‘Freedom Riders’, a group of American civil rights activists, who in 1961 drove a bus into the southern United States to challenge the segregation of busses.
The film was released in 2007 and starred Hilary Swank who plays Erin Gruwell, Patrick Dempsey as her husband and Imelda Staunton as Margaret, the head of the English department and Erin’s nemesis. A number of the student cast members had never acted before, and there was also testimony from survivors of the Holocaust. It was directed by Richard La Graveness who has also directed P.S.I Love You and the Beautiful Creatures (2013). He also produced the Freedom Writersscreenplay, and has written other screenplays for Beloved, The Horse Whisperer and The Bridges of Madison County.
For a film synopsis and questions for reflection, please click here.