Hilary Swank stars in this story about a teacher in a racially divided school who gives her students what they've always needed — a voice. Swank plays Erin Gruwell, the real-life teacher at Long Beach Wilson High who inspired her students to overcome the gangs that divided them and the education system that forgot them.
Based on the book The Freedom Writers Diary and supported by a cast of first-time actors who drew from their actual experiences on the street, Gruwell teaches us all an important lesson about tolerance and trust.
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Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby, Boys Don't Cry) comes to a southern California high school bubbling over with naive optimism, but quickly discovers that her unruly classroom isn't easily won over by her good intentions. After a few floundering attempts to connect with her students, Gruwell gives them the assignment of keeping journals about their own lives — an assignment that the class bites into with relish, which eventually bonds them together and pushes racial rivalries aside.... Swank does solid work, but the standouts are April L. Hernandez as a girl whose gang wants her to lie and send an innocent boy to jail and Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) as a teacher who resents Gruwell's offbeat success. — Bret Fetzer