When doing small researches to write a paper I entitled “America – A Dream that Has Not Come True” in African American Literature Class and another paper I entitled “’Salad Bowl’ and ‘Anti Semitism’ in Elmer Rice’s Street Scene” in Modern American Literature class in 2003, I was wondering if racial prejudice portrayed in “Street Scene” and racial discrimination illustrated in Langston Hughes’ poem—Will V-Day Be Me-Day Too?—can still be easily found in America at the end of the twentieth century and in the beginning of the twenty first century.
When watching FREEDOM WRITERS, a movie inspired by a real event in Long Beach California that happened at the last decade of the twentieth century, I got the answer of that question of mine. Racial prejudice, racial violence, racial discrimination, or whatever people call it, still exists in the land Langston Hughes mentioned as a dream country for million immigrants with various color skins in his poem “Freedom’s Plow”. The movie starts with live news on TV showing gang violence and racial tension causing more than 120 people killed, following the Rodney King riots. It is followed by a depiction of how a Latino father raises his daughter—Eva Benita, one central character in the movie—to be the next generation of a gangster. The marginalized communities living in Long Beach—say Latino, Asians, and Black—believe that they have to fight each other for territory, kill each other over race, pride, and respect. In short, I can say that Long Beach is the “modern” area of the cheap tenement portrayed by Elmer Rice in his realistic play STREET SCENE (1929). What I mean “modern” here is people using more advanced ‘media’ to show their prejudice and hatred against different races, such as guns. In Long Beach, people are divided into some separate sections, depending on tribes. The Latinos get along with their own tribe, so do the Asians and Blacks. They openly show their hatred to each other. However, they can become united when facing the mainstream of America—the Whites.
For the marginalized tribes’ hatred toward the Whites, Eva said, “White people always want to be respected as if they deserve to get it for free. It is all about colors. It is all about people deciding what you deserve; about people wanting what they don’t deserve; about white people thinking they can get anything … no matter what.”
The amazing aspect from the movie is the way Erin Gruwell, one white English teacher working for Woodrow Wilson High School chosen by the government to be reform school with voluntary integration program to win her students’ hearts—many of them are just out of juvenile prison due to gang fights—to make them want an education and believe that the education will better their future. Failing to get her students’ attention on the first day, slowly Erin succeeds making them united to be hostile to her due to her white complexion. Later on Erin can get their attention and make them interested to read the books she buys for them, although it means she has to have an extra job to get money to buy the books. After making them interested to read the books she provides, Erin eventually succeeds making them realize that education will really change their future to be better. Nevertheless, her hard work and much time she dedicates for her students result in divorce because her husband—feeling neglected—does not agree with her way of living. Besides, Erin realizes that her happiness is gathered when she can help her students aware the meaning of their lives, and not just as a wife of a man.
This amazing movie is produced by Double Feature Films Production. Hilary Swank plays as Erin Gruwell, Patrick Dempsey as Scott Casey, Erin’s husband, Scott Glenn as her father, who always supports anything Erin does for her students, and April Lee Hernandez as Eva Benita.
PT56 13.20 161007
P.S.: You can view my post at http://afeministblog.blogspot.com/2007/10/america-dream.html for my paper "America - A Dream that Has Not Come True Yet" and my other post at http://afeministblog.blogspot.com/2007/10/salad-bowl-versus-melting-pot.html for my paper on STREET SCENE