Not Commie Girl

Dangerous Minds: An exclusive interview with Long Beach about Freedom Writers, Joseph Campbell, and the cult of celebrity

I met the LBC at Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles in the East Village Arts District to talk about the new movie Freedom Writers.It's based on the book by Wilson High teacher Erin Gruwell, who's from Newport Beach. LBC was shorter than expected, but still kept it gangsta in a white T-shirt, creased Dickies, and corduroy house shoes. I had never interviewed an entire city before—though I had done a sit-down with Little Saigon—especially one with such a notorious reputation for gangs and violence, but the LBC was surprisingly well-spoken and informed.

OC Weekly: Thank you for taking time from yourbusy schedule of drive-bys, carjackings, and beating up young white women to meet withOC Weekly.

LBC: No doubt, young nephew. I gotta represent the block, knowwhatI'msaying? Strong Beach, C-A, stand up!

Do you really talk like that?

Of course not. But would you be talking to me if I spoke like Tucker Carlson?

You speak like Tucker Carlson?

[.…]

We're here to talk aboutFreedom Writers, the newly released film about a rookie teacher at Long Beach's Wilson High School. You just read the book and saw the film, what did you think?

At first, I thought it was as tight as a frog's ass, feel me? Seeing myself on the big screen was overdue, but then it got as corny as my girl's feet.

How so?

A white person goes to live with the savages? Shit, I saw that back in 1990 when it was called Dances With Wolves.Except this time, it's an OC girl crossing the 605. It's feel-good mythology, not reality. Joseph Campbell's classic hero mixed with white liberal guilt, ya dig?

You read Campbell?

Yeah, cuzz. I can read. I'm Long Beach, not Compton. The kids lived in some Bizarro World where everything was bad: gangs, drugs, abuse, crime. And then the teacher—the white teacher—comes along and they actually have a group hug for that one nerdy Mexican boy, come on now?

What would you have done differently?

A gang of shit. Look, is Long Beach hard? Fa sho. But it's also a complicated space. Did you know I'm the most diverse city in the country? I would have showed all of that diversity: the Vietnamese, Filipinos, and Mexicans that share St. Lucy's Catholic Church on the West Side, black boys dating Mexican girls, Cambodian Temples right next to biker bars. Was it off the hook after the riots, like Freedom Riders shows? Fa sho. But the way the movie shows it, it was Baghdad or Detroit and that's not real. Races do click off like in the movie, but that don't mean they all beefing, feel me? And that's a big difference. They never showed races mixing at football games, bowling at Java Lanes, watching movies on Pine Street, or kicking it at the Mickey D's on Willow. A movie that's supposed to be against stereotypes just makes more. That's what happens when a white girl from Newport Beach tells the story. That's why I hate sharing a border with snobby ass Orange County. You best believe, even though the kids wrote the journals, she picked the entries for the book, knowwhatI'msaying? And look at how she simplified racism in the story.

How did she do that?

I'm not on that "It's a Small World" shit, feel me? That if we just hug the lonely Mexican kid like in the movie, it'll all be all good. All that "Kumbaya" shit makes people think you can correct racism with hugs and kisses. It may change the players, but the game stays the same. Race in this country is institutionalized, from the schools to the banks to the laws. She was mad quick to talk about the Holocaust, but why didn't she talk about American imperialism: the slave trade, deportations, Vietnam? Was she scared to talk about the crimes committed against her own students by their own country? I mean, if you're gonna go there, go there, naw mean?

Thanks for the thoughts, LBC. Any last words?

I don't really trust people that chase the spotlight. Is it about the work or the fame? Nowadays, everybody want to be a celebrity. You wanna know a real hero? Shout out to history teacher Tony Rogers at Poly High. Rest in peace. He taught almost 30 years, ran the diversity club, and started the human relations camps in Long Beach. He was a lifer, a true gangsta. Where's his movie? Or was he too black for it?

 
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