The plot of the film is simple enough. After the mandated racial integration of an inner-city California high school, a woman named Erin Gruwell, played by Hillary Swank, shows up trying to seize an exciting opportunity for her as a teacher and thus live out the legacy of her father, a man who marched in the Civil Rights movement and is now an embittered curmudgeon. After dealing with the cynicisms of her faculty, she realizes that the racial hatred in the school is too overwhelming for the traditional curriculum. The turning point in the film, about a half hour into it, occurs when she encounters a cartoon portraying a black man with large lips that one of the students draws.
I’d like to focus on that particular scene, because it carries the tone for the remaining hour and a half. After making a comparison of this cartoon with the cartoons of the Jews that would be published in German newspapers, she goes on to compare the National Socialist party to a gang, and describes Hitler as a man who gave the Germans “pride and identity and somebody to blame.” When she asks the class to raise their hand if they know about the holocaust, the only white kid there raises his hand. This is a class comprising what looks like thirty to forty people. When she then asks the class to raise their hand if they have ever been shot at, every single person in the class other than the white kid raises his or her hand. The message thus becomes quite obvious: those who know about the holocaust stay out of gang violence and other associated forms of trouble, and those who turn their backs on the holocaust are doomed.
As if the intent of the picture could not be blatant enough by this point, Swank also throws in some secular progressive propaganda for good measure (keep in mind, Zionism is an inherently secular ideology). When one of the black kids says that it’s better to die for one’s own people, as a warrior, Swank retorts that when you die, “you’re going to rot in the ground, and people are going to go on living.” She then points out that “nobody is going to want to remember you, because all you left behind is this [racist cartoon].” Leaving aside the fact that, according to her logic, the person will be rotting in the ground and unable to tell if anyone remembers him in the first place, her comment is still completely false. Clearly, she does want to remember Hitler. She really wants to remember the guy, and her mission is to educate everyone about Uncle Adolf until the savage beast in them completely disappears.
In order to reshape the minds of these youngsters, Swank simply strikes at them with a barrage of intense holocaust awareness training. She teaches them about the holocaust, she has them read The Diary of Anne Frank, she organizes a field trip to the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance (which is essentially a holocaust museum sponsored by Zionists), she introduces them to holocaust survivors, and then she flies out the woman who sheltered Anne Frank in WWII to speak with them. It is not any kind of easy task to determine exactly what the kids actually learn in this class, especially when the film makes various references to the fact that Swank brazenly defies the curriculum and merely teaches the kids what she herself deems important, but they sure seem enthused.
The main purpose of the film, to promote Zionism, is enshrouded by the fact that these kids actually wrote in journals about their lives. That is, actually, the main thrust of the real-life story that this film is based on. Swank introduces the idea of journal-writing in a very understated way compared to the fury the overall film expresses regarding the holocaust, but the majority of the film then goes onto chronicle the documentation of these teenagers’ personal lives without explaining the necessity for them to write in a journal in the first place. The purpose is simply to compare the lives of struggling inner-city teenagers to the lives of Jews suffering through the holocaust. The two scenarios bear no comparison, obviously, for the simple fact that the Jews suffered under the policy of central government, whereas no such policies exist that cause gang warfare. However, despite the lack of correlation between the Jews of the holocaust and the film’s situation, the imagery is invoked to suggest a causal hypothesis stating that due to indignant European oppression, Blacks, Latinos and Cambodians are in a poor situation. Rather than combat low self-esteem and cultural irresponsibility, Freedom Writers embraces that very sense of irresponsibility and utilizes Nazi imagery as a means of pointing the finger at white privilege. Meanwhile, bad role models and harmful cultural figures like Snoop Dogg are celebrated as a means to bind the races together.
To add some struggle to the plot, which has no real central conflict, Swank’s husband grows impatient with her superheroism and uncompromisingly positive outlook on life. The problem is that he is a 40-something-year-old aspiring architect who is unmotivated, lazy, and caught up in what he considers the wrong job. This entire subplot fails demonstrably, as although the man is clearly upset, the house both he and Swank occupy is extraordinarily lavish. It has plenty of space and all sorts of expensive furnishings and knickknacks – objects that could never be purchased on a teacher’s salary. The husband is clearly the breadwinner in the relationship, although the film portrays him as a nihilistic loser. It seems as though the entire point of this conflict insertion is to keep some sort of problem afloat in an otherwise mindless celebration of tolerance and Jewish pride.
The technical methods of propaganda in the film are also worth mentioning, as it transcends formulaic Hollywood conventions to create something absurdly unique. The use of time-elapsing montage is employed so fiercely it becomes difficult to absorb what is actually happening. I counted a total of eleven time-elapsing montages, ten if you don’t count the footage of the Rodney King riots that kicks off the film. It is difficult to count these montages because one of them includes two sub-montages within. The intent is to exasperate the audience and simplify the issues these teenagers face as problems, albeit serious, that can be easily remedied. Some of the imagery in these montages utilizes symbolism and strategic lighting, so as to literally illuminate various members of the class when they write in their journals. The use of sentimentalism is also heavily employed with various scenes relying on sappy music.
Perhaps the most offensive aspect of Freedom Writers is the distinct lack of actual Jewish people in the film. Other than the holocaust survivors that show up and are mainly voiced-over, the film is made in the shadow of other people’s suffering with a very limited use of those actual people. Familiarity can breed contempt, and parlaying the Jews into infallible superpeople is done exactly by not introducing them as significant characters. While the various students all undergo a great deal of suffering, as the film points out, their sympathies are directed most highly toward the Jews rather than each other, because while each of these people in Swank’s class have their own shortcomings, no such admissions are made for any Jewish people. The message has nothing to do with overcoming a bad situation, but rather, the ontological superiority of Jews.
In purely formalistic terms, Freedom Writers is an awful film. The main conflict of the story switches gratuitously, the subplot involving Swank and her husband makes little to no sense, all of the subplots of each class member are met with dead ends, and the facts of the real-life story do little justice to the message of the film adaptation. The ending of the movie concludes, “Many freedom writers were the first in their families to graduate high school and go to college.” Not only is the weasel word “many” used, but it doesn’t even apply to the actual rate of college graduation among these freedom writers. Even if they all actually graduated college, what does the message of the story say? That holocaust awareness is the chief method of success, or that it’s more effective for a teacher to stay with the same class for all four years of high school with her own curriculum that has more to do with moral judgments than actual information? As a work of art, Freedom Writers fails on numerous levels. But as a piece of propaganda, one can’t help but admire the cold, calculated technique that went into the creation of this monstrosity. The confusion and lack of continuity in plot juxtaposed with holocaust awareness, the only consistent recurring theme, makes for a brilliant propaganda piece that invokes the most intense suppression of logic during the Soviet era. Even the film’s very title is so unabashedly patronizing that you feel as though you’re really dealing with a genuine Zio-classic from beginning to end.