Sunday, July 15, 2007

Recycling Inspiration: Diversity for White Kids

The comparison between Michelle Pfeiffer's ex-marine turned teacher movie and Hilary Swank's teacher movie (Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers) are unavoidable.

Yet there is something strangely touching about these real life stores of white teachers in good-schools-gone-bad due to integration and busing kids in from the ghetto.

In fact, it's not even that different than the type of sports movies that are frequently recycled including the MTV film Coach Carter which came out a little over a year ago.

These stories are touching and people generally like the inspirational teacher drama (unless it's on the artsy or complicated like Half Nelson was last year). Yet I can't help watching one of these MTV films (whether it be Freedom Writers, Coach Carter, or Save The Last Dance) and think "These are films about diversity made for rich white teens so they can watch something moving about inequality and feel like they care."

Maybe it's all part of inspiration overload, but the real life story of people like Erin Gruwell (Swank) in Freedom Writers, or Louanne Johnson (Pfeiffer) in Dangerous Minds are moving and touching (my wife was crying at many points in the film). Yet the stories are becoming overplayed. Perhaps that's how Dangerous Minds made almost three times in theaters what Freedom Writers made.

The story is overplayed, and yet I think Hollywood still wants to inspire us with real life stories about people who make a difference, and with hard work and persistence take on diversity, adversity, and social issues.

I think that's why the story of Luma Muflah created such a stir in Hollywood as companies competed to buy the life story of a woman who fought to let Refugees play soccer in Atlanta. It combines Coach Carter and Freedom Writers and the increasing collection of soccer movies out there (Kicking and Screaming, Gracie, Bend it Like Beckham, She's the Man, Goal!). Muflah's story is just a little bit different and tells the inspirational story Hollywood wants to tell.


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13 comments:

Heather said...

What a wacky coincidence. Just saw Half Nelson last night. Definitely not on the classic inspirational bent.

Magnus said...

There were a raft of these sorts of films in the 80's, perhaps underscoring how little things have changed.

the teach said...

There is something that bothers me about these movies that tell the stories of only white teachers or coaches who help African-American or foreign-born kids "all about success in life."

Where are the stories about African American teachers and coaches...

Yes there was "To Sir With Love" starring Sidney Poitier but I really have a problem with "white messiah" movies and so do a lot of African-Americans. There is another movie about a black teacher I think in Newark who did a lot for the kids of the school there but I can't think of the guys name...
Here's a link:
http://popwatch.ew.com/popwatch/2007/01/reviewing_the_r_1.html

the teach said...

Here's that link again:
http://popwatch.ew.com/popwatch/2007/
01/reviewing_the_r_1.html

Lorna said...

the value of these films is in the awareness they raise among people who might be moved to do something---we need such an inspiration for the horrific and needless plight of First Naitons people in Canada

Brooke Cloudbuster said...

I really don't like Freedom Writers. Hilary Swank really doesn't seem to carry the same kind of vibe that Michelle Pfeiffer does.

Mercurie said...

I think the reason Freedom Writers didn't do that well is that there have been a lot of these sorts of movies over the years. Besides Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds, and Half Nelson, there was also Stand and Deliver (which is my favourite) in which a Hispanic teacher helps Hispanic students prepare for an important exam; The Emperor's School, which is set at a prep school; The Dead Poet's Society, which features another teacher at a prep school (it's my favourite Robin Williams film); and Lean on Me, in which Morgan Freeman plays a principal determined to prove an inner city school. Going farther back to the Sixties, we have To Sir With Love and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. After so many of these films, I think people have just tired of them.

Mercurie said...

Doh! That should be "The Emperor's Club," not "Emperor's School."

Fox said...

You're right about *Freedom Writers*. It had it's share of nonsense, but I found it more moving than the puerile *Half Nelson*.

*Freedom Writers* at least had scenes of "teaching"/"learning" where *Half Nelson* was just Ryan Gosling and his affectations, made dreamy by the backing sounds of Broken Social Scene.

The praise for that movie confounds me!

Fox said...

Also ... let's not forget *The Principal*, *Summer School*, and *High School High*!

jasdye said...

yuck!

teacher-as-superhero movies make me queasy, regardless of the race factors.

i mean, for crying out loud, she gave up her marriage and took up two extra p/t jobs to "save" these kids. i just don't buy it. no teacher should be held against that standard. it isn't right for the teacher, nor for the students.

Bennett said...

My favorite along those lines is Billy Madison.
Would Major Payne count as well? Although, Major Payne is black. That's why they had to make it a comedy instead of a drama.

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