All Clichés Are True

Freedom Writers
When this movie appeared on the DVD racks I was happy to give it a look. There is a whole genre of ‘Teacher improves tough class’ films, from ‘Stand and Deliver’ all the way back to ‘The Blackboard Jungle’.

This film though, takes place at Wilson High School in Long Beach which had a fair number of Khmer students. (Cambodians are mentioned once, if I recall correctly.)

In a nutshell: skip the film, read the book.

The journal entries are the most powerful parts of the story, and I would have preferred to see a television series with an ensemble cast showing the growth and development of the class – focusing in turns on the individual stories of the students.

Instead, the movie reworks portions of the true story and uses the teacher as its main character (hard to avoid) and the stories take more of a back seat. Much of the real story (like the class raising money to meet war survivor Zlata Filipovic) wasn’t able to be included in a feature-length movie.
Freedom Writers
If I had my way, The Freedom Writers book would be translated into Khmer. It’s about young people dealing with poverty, violence, gangs, sexual abuse, drug addiction. And many overcome these problems by developing their writing skills as a team – a story that would sound saccharine if it wasn’t true.

The fact that it is, and that the Freedom Writers Foundation continues to make change today, makes for a great, inspiring read. Sure, the ‘Teacher saves unteachable class’ story IS a bit of a genre. But as one of my professors liked to say, there’s often a basis in fact for what might first appear to be cliché.

Tags: cambodia,cinema,film,khmer,education

3 Responses to “All Clichés Are True”

  1. Seila says:

    hi Jinja

    I haven’t read this book, but i think it’s a good book. If you need, I can help you to translate this book. I hope Camobodian youths have many resource to research. That’s my intention.


  2. Pol Pean says:

    Hello from Cambodia

    I was checked your website that related with Cambodia, it is very interesting information.
    We are a team of volunteer working in Siem Reap Cambodia named Working For Children. Our history can see on

    We would like to request you to share with our volunteer work by link with your website.
    We would be appreciated if you can link our website with you.

    Looking forward to hear from you

    Wishing the Best

    (Mr.) Pol Pean

    Executive Director
    # 0037, Donteav village, Roluos commune, Siem Reap province. CAMBODIA
    Tel: 855-12 963 870 / 12 858 618 Fax: 855- 12 499 288 / /

  3. Our global world keeps coming full circle, John! Beth’s blog pinged into my feed reader and there you were!

    Though I agree with you on the ‘lost in translation’ elements of the literary genre to film, having seen Erin Gruwell in person at this event, and researching all about the teaching institute and work they’re doing reinforced to me that even if an iota of her ‘pay it forward’ tenacity translates to others elsewhere, (and film reaches en masse, as we know!) then it’s ‘worth it’ to still put it out there. Carmen from Racialicious was just in our Shaping Youth blog series on race/gender/stereotypes and such and called attention to the cliche/’white hope/teacher/savior’ genre as well…so you’re not alone, clearly.

    I actually posted your link (and Beth’s) as well as an update from Erin Gruwell’s most recent video interview last week at her teacher training institute on my original post in the comments section. You can find the links here:
    (needless to say, all the others are embedded throughout, as you know, I tend to go ‘overboard’ on the content/rich linkage factor. (can we say info overload? ahem, sorry! ;-)

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