Freedom Writers Film Analysis Essay

What techniques does the director of Freedom Writers, Richard LaGravenses, use to engage the audience?

Introduction Freedom Writers is based on a true story set in America in 1994, where a first time teacher, played by Hilary Swank, faces a group of students who have been considered by the government to be “un-teachable and at–risk” teenagers. These students represent street kids who have all witnessed street fights as well as the murder of their friends and family. The movie demonstrates the way non-white Americans are over represented in teenage homicides, incarceration, unemployment, poverty and poor educational outcomes, but also the way they are viewed in the media. The film also has several references to ghettos, street life, drug busts and continual involvement with the police. The target audience for this film is teenagers. A way this is known is because of the way the film is presented to the audience with the way the language use is presented.

The scene selected to illustrate the techniques used to engage the audience occurs when Erin and her students engage in an argument/confrontation about respect and the importance of legacy between ‘gangs’.

Context Erin is a white middle-aged teacher with a passion for helping “troubled” students. Within her class a majority of the students are black and hispanic. In the chosen scene, Erin is confronted with a racist drawing of one of the students. This prompts Erin to talk about the holocaust. She says to her class, “It starts with a drawing like this, and some kid dies in a drive-by never even knowing what hit him.” After this statement, a student named Eva speaks about how she feels about white people, which sparks a discussion between Erin and her students.

The discussion that unfolds demonstrates the frustration, passion and emotion of the students, with several of them talking about respect and legacy between their gangs. This scene is not only confronting for both the students and Erin, but also for the viewers watching.

Language Throughout the scene, the use of language provides the audience with a clear understanding of the position of each speaker. One significant example of this is when Eva says, “White people always wanting their respect like they deserve it for free. It’s all about colour, it’s about people deciding what they deserve and wanting what they don’t deserve. About white’s thinking that they run the world no matter what, see I hate white people. ” Eva is suggesting that she thinks white people believe they should have the respect of people because they are white, rather than because they have earned it in some way.

Then she goes on to say that white people run the world and that white people can do or get anything they want because they can, because they’re white. Eva describes how “white” people took her father away from her when she was a young girl, and how “white” police officers shot her friend in the back for no reason. This is Eva’s reason for not giving respect to “white people” including the teacher Erin. In this exchange, Erin remains calm and impassive while Eva becomes emotional, raising her voice and showing her frustration, anger and sadness.

Marcus, another student in the class goes on to say, “When I look out in the world, I don’t see nobody like me with their pockets full unless there rapping a lyric or dribbling a ball so what else you go in here for me. And what if you can’t rap a lyric or dribble a ball? It ain’t tradition… I made it to high school ain’t nobody stop me. Lady I’m lucky if I make it to 18, we in a war, we graduate everyday we living because we ain’t afraid to die protecting our own. At least when you die for your own, you die with respect.” In his use of the language of the street, the audience can empathise with Marcus’ point of view. Significantly the words, “I’m lucky if I make it to 18, we in a war, we ain’t afraid to die protecting our own,” make the audience think about the situation in which these young people live and think about how the students would react.

Film techniques The audience is drawn further to appreciate the perspective of the young people portrayed through the camera angles chosen by the director. Much of the scene is shown from the perspective of the students, with the camera at their level, looking up at the teacher, allowing the audience to empathise with their position. Close ups were used when the students were talking, showing the emotion on their faces. An example of this was when Eva was talking and she was expressing her feelings towards white people. Eva’s face was shown in a close up revealing the emotions of anger, passion and tears.

A medium shot was used when Erin was talking to Marcus about his sense of purpose. This showed both their facial expression, but it also showed the emotion on the faces of the other students in the class as this discussion was confronting to everyone. This shot revealed great sadness on the student’s faces as Erin spoke to them.

Long shots were used to show the classroom, when the teacher was talking or asking rhetorical questions. But to also show the body language of the students in the scene. For example, when Erin talks to the students about when they die, they rot in the ground, a long shot was used to show the emotion on their faces. Which showed they were shocked by what the teacher said to the class, but sad because they knew it was the truth.

Conclusion In this particular scene from Freedom Writers, the Director successfully used the American context to set the scene, but also used different language and film techniques to engage the audience.