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The Best Movies About Latinos Overcoming Odds And Learning Stuff


The eighties and early nineties were all about overcoming odds: the Americans beating the Soviet hockey team at the 1980 Olympics, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Daniel LaRusso beating the Cobra Kai dojo at the karate tournament. As a result of all this triumphing of the human spirit, came the inspirational teacher genre. What’s that you ask? Pretty much it goes something like this: Outsider teacher (usually white and female) + Black and/or Latino kids in an inner city high school = Feel good story! Here are some of our favorites.

Stand and Deliver (1988)

This is the best of the bunch. Stand And Deliver tells the true story of Jaime Escalante, a math teacher who takes a bunch of cholos in East L.A. and turned them into mathematicians. Edward James Olmos sported a fake comb over and a heavy accent (“Orale!”) to play Escalante. He even got hairnet wearing Lou Diamond-Phillips to learn calculus. On an unrelated note, did you know that Phillips was famous in the eighties for playing Mexicans, even though he’s Scottish/Irish, Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, and Cherokee? He’s everything but Mexican!

Dangerous Minds (1995)

Michelle Pfeiffer stars as a pretty white teacher who is hired to teach English lit at an inner city school. The kids don’t like her because she’s a condescending white woman. So, she becomes “cool” to “relate” to them by putting on a leather jacket and teaching them poetry through the lyrics of Bob Dylan. Michelle, you think putting on a leather jacket makes you cool? Who do you think you are? Fonzie? Secondly, inner city kids in the 90s don’t know who the hell Bob Dylan is. Why not teach them poetry through Tupac or Biggie Smalls? Oh, right. Because the hack screenwriters don’t know who the hell Biggie and Tupac are. At least it gave us the Coolio classic, Gangstas Paradise:

Freedom Writers (2007)

Sort of like Dangerous Minds, except the less pretty Hilary Swank. Freedom Writers is yet another flick about a pretty white woman that comes to an inner city school to teach English lit. This movie lays its message on pretty thick. The kids at the school segregate into different racial groups, but then Hillary teaches them to be tolerant and love each other. Not only does Hillary Swank help them appreciate literature, she also eliminates racism. Way to go, Hil!

Renaissance Man (1994)

This Danny DeVito classic is the only one of few teacher films that isn’t set in high school. DeVito is hired by the army to teach Shakespeare to a bunch of misfit soldiers. Now, you may be asking yourself, “Why would soldiers need to learn Shakespeare?” A good question. As far as we can tell, it’s so private Benitez can recite the St. Crispin’s day speech from Henry V to Gregory Hines.

Fame (1980)

This gem is set at the New York High School for the Performing Arts. The kids are still inner city misfits, only they can sing and dance. They do this a lot. Like, “every few minutes” a lot. Seriously, these kids can’t even have lunch without singing and dancing. The film stars Irene Cara as Coco Hernandez. She’s a great singer but is wild and Puerto Rican. Later in the film, a sleazy director lures her into taking a screen test. By screen test we mean gratuitously showing her boobies.

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