Just to follow on today’s blog post about the US working class, I must confess, it was not just inspired by recent political events. In the past week, I have watched two excellent movies set in the projects in Los Angeles. I’ve never paid much attention to the ghetto genre, especially those set in the 1990s, mainly due to the violence. I didn’t really identify with characters, probably because I grew up in a middle class suburb in the UK.
That doesn’t mean gang violence doesn’t happen or has never happened around the city. It’s nearly 15 years ago, but I remember when two innocent girls, Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare, were murdered in a case of mistaken identity, so it seems, by a gang. One of the killers turned out to be the half brother of one of the girls. I was studying at Bournville College of Further Education at the time and was good friends with a boy who used to hang out with them. He was going to go out with the girls the night they were killed but he was apparently grounded.
It happened in the Aston/Lozells area. I’ve only passed through and I don’t know it well. It has a reputation, and I think the closest to what in the USA calls a project. Still, it was a world I was very much removed from and didn’t really comprehend the realities of these neighbourhoods, yet it had an impact on me, like did for many in the city.
Like I said above, I don’t really identify with ghetto movies, mainly due to the violence being glorified. In both Freedom Writers and Imperial Dreams, however, there is more emphasis on the social issues in the neighbourhoods, whether it be alcoholism, drugs, racial tension, poverty, domestic violence, lack of education, unemployment, poverty, gang affiliation and imprisonment. Violence does feature, but it does revolve around it, but looks at the trauma and the fear of it.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. I don’t know about Imperial Dreams, but Freedom Writers is based on a true story, when a new, naive teacher was thrown into the deep-end and was teaching a mix of students with low grades from the projects. From a middle class background, she had no idea of the realities of the kids. She struggled at first but she inspired them to write diaries, as well as the opportunity to read new literature. The diaries became a nationwide, then international, project for many inner-city schools with problems with violence throughout the 90s. There is a picture of the original class below. A former colleague recommended it a couple of years ago but I forgot all about it until last weekend and I remembered how taken he was with it. I won’t tell you much more, other than it is moving, it stars Hilary Swank, it’s 10 years old and you can catch it on Netflix.
Imperial Dreams is about a boy who leaves prison and returns to the project he’s from. He makes his son his first priority and tries to get a job so he doesn’t have to return to a criminal life. He too is a writer. Maybe that’s what I also like about both the stories. This movie is also on Netflix, stars John Boyega (from Star Wars) and won various awards.
I’ll finish there for now so not to leave spoilers. Enjoy!