Lean on Me (1989)

PG-13 | 108 mins | Drama, Biography | 3 March 1989

Director:

John G. Avildsen

Producer:

Norman Twain

Cinematographer:

Victor Hammer

Production Designer:

Doug Kraner

Production Company:

Warner Bros., Inc.
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HISTORY

The following title card precedes opening credits: “The following is based upon a true story. Once considered among the finest high schools in America, Eastside High of Paterson, New Jersey, declined over the years until an official report called it a terrible ‘cauldron of violence.’ The battle of one man, Joe Clark, to save Eastside High School and restore its former pride is the subject of our story. It began about twenty years ago.”
       The following are noted in end credits: "The production wishes to acknowledge the help and cooperation of: The State of New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission; the Mayor's Office, the Board of Education, the Police Department, the Youth Advocate Program, the Youth Services Bureau, the Rosa Parks School for the Arts of the City of Paterson, N.J.; the Tri-City Employment Program, the Unified Vailsburg Service Organization, the Community School of the Arts, St. Benedict's Preparatory School, the Essex County Upward Bound Program, the Police Athletic League, the Mayor's Office of Employment and Training, the National Sports Counseling Corporation, and the Division of Recreation/Cultural Affairs of the City of Newark, N.J.; the Department of Recreation and the Temple of Unified Christians of East Orange, N.J.; the College Upward Bound Program and the Job Corps of Edison, N.J.; Tracy Brooks Swope; and the teachers and students of Eastside High School, Paterson, N.J."
       According to a 3 Mar 1989 LAT article, high school principal Joe Clark’s life story rights were optioned by Universal Pictures in 1984, but the project was stalled. In 1986, Warner Bros. and producer Norman Twain took over the rights, paying Clark $15,000 and a “small” percentage of the film’s gross. ... More Less

The following title card precedes opening credits: “The following is based upon a true story. Once considered among the finest high schools in America, Eastside High of Paterson, New Jersey, declined over the years until an official report called it a terrible ‘cauldron of violence.’ The battle of one man, Joe Clark, to save Eastside High School and restore its former pride is the subject of our story. It began about twenty years ago.”
       The following are noted in end credits: "The production wishes to acknowledge the help and cooperation of: The State of New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission; the Mayor's Office, the Board of Education, the Police Department, the Youth Advocate Program, the Youth Services Bureau, the Rosa Parks School for the Arts of the City of Paterson, N.J.; the Tri-City Employment Program, the Unified Vailsburg Service Organization, the Community School of the Arts, St. Benedict's Preparatory School, the Essex County Upward Bound Program, the Police Athletic League, the Mayor's Office of Employment and Training, the National Sports Counseling Corporation, and the Division of Recreation/Cultural Affairs of the City of Newark, N.J.; the Department of Recreation and the Temple of Unified Christians of East Orange, N.J.; the College Upward Bound Program and the Job Corps of Edison, N.J.; Tracy Brooks Swope; and the teachers and students of Eastside High School, Paterson, N.J."
       According to a 3 Mar 1989 LAT article, high school principal Joe Clark’s life story rights were optioned by Universal Pictures in 1984, but the project was stalled. In 1986, Warner Bros. and producer Norman Twain took over the rights, paying Clark $15,000 and a “small” percentage of the film’s gross. Sydney Poitier was Warner Bros.’ first choice for the role of “Joe Clark,” but the actor turned it down because he did not agree with Clark’s politics. Bill Cosby was approached next, but filmmakers determined that the performer’s energy was too low, so Eddie Murphy was considered; however, Murphy’s contract with Paramount Pictures barred him from appearing in a Warner Bros. production. Danny Glover was also named as a contender, but the actor was expected to star in the upcoming Warner Bros. Lethal Weapon sequel. Morgan Freeman, who had recently won an Obie award for his off-Broadway performance in Driving Miss Daisy, was cast after the others were ruled out, although producer Twain insisted that Freeman was always his first choice. In preparation for the role, Freeman shadowed Clark for several weeks at Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ, where the film was also shot. Eastside students, and high school students from neighboring New Jersey and New York schools, portrayed most of the teenagers in the film, with lead roles going to first-time actors discovered at open auditions.
       A second article in the 3 Mar 1989 LAT enumerated differences between the film’s narrative and Clark’s life story. In the film, “Joe Clark” works at the primarily white Eastside High in 1967, is fired and sent to School No. 6, another white school, then brought back to the primarily African-American Eastside in 1987; in real life, Clark began teaching at Eastside in 1972 when the student body was 46% African-American, then worked at School No. 6 in a mostly black and Latino, low-income area, and returned to Eastside in 1982. In the film, the principal expels 300 “miscreant” students on his first day on the job, while Clark gradually expelled the same number of students for truancy and bad grades over the course of a year. Although Clark did lock the doors at Eastside to keep out drug dealers, as depicted in the film, he also complied with a court order forcing him to stop and was never arrested or imprisoned as Freeman’s character was in the film’s climactic scenes. Clark’s wife never left him, and Paterson’s white mayor, Frank X. Graves, Jr., was an early supporter of the principal, not the adversary portrayed in character “Mayor Don Bottman.” Clark reportedly disapproved of the film’s overall depiction of white characters and stated that some of his greatest supporters, like board of education member William Pascrell and two vice principals at Eastside, were white. However, he claimed the film was “95% accurate” and excluded sex and offensive language upon his request.
       A 24 May 1988 HR production chart announced the 31 May 1988 start of principal photography. Production notes in AMPAS library files cited an eight-week shooting schedule, and several contemporary sources, including a 13 Jun 1988 People item and a 9 Mar 1989 HR “Hollywood Report” column, stated that the production budget was around $10 million.
       To boost word-of-mouth publicity for the film, Warner Bros. arranged several sneak previews, including an initial, five-city engagement in Los Angeles, CA; Nashville, TN; Atlanta, GA; St. Louis, MO; and Seattle, WA, according to a 20 Jan 1989 advertisement in LAHExam. A second preview took place in twenty cities on 21 Jan 1989, as noted in the 9 Mar 1989 HR, and garnered a warm reception. Another sneak preview followed on 19 Feb 1989 and elicited the same response. “Radio invitational” screenings were scheduled for mid-Feb in fifty-eight cities across the U.S. and Canada. A special screening was also arranged for boxer Mike Tyson, whose upcoming world championship fight was highly publicized at the time. Tyson viewed the film and agreed to appear in a television advertisement for Lean on Me, showing the fighter emerging as the winner of a boxing match and stating his intentions to see “the knockout new movie called Lean on Me. ” An 8 Mar 1989 LAT brief noted Clark’s dismay that Tyson was paid $150,000 for the appearance while he had received only $15,000 for his story. However, Warner Bros. disputed the claim, saying Tyson volunteered to promote the film for free. According to a 22 Mar 1989 Var news item, the picture was also endorsed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Beverly Hills/Hollywood chapter.
       As reported in the 9 Mar 1989 HR, the film grossed $5 million on 894 screens on its opening weekend. A 29 Mar 1989 DV item announced the twenty-four-day gross as $20,211,070.
       While promoting Lean on Me in Los Angeles, Clark came under fire for a performance that took place at Eastside High in his absence, according to a 16 Mar 1989 LAT news item. On 15 Feb 1989, a group of “scantily clad dancers” stripped onstage at a school assembly, and Clark took responsibility for the incident. The Paterson School Board was scheduled to vote on whether or not to fire Clark, who was also accused of neglecting his responsibilities while publicizing the film. A 26 Mar 1989 Chicago Tribune article reported that the principal was not fired over the incident but received a one-week suspension, and planned to take a sabbatical later in the year to write and lecture. Mayor Frank X. Graves, Jr. allegedly blamed Clark’s involvement in Lean on Me as the reason for his decline on the job, and described the principal as “carried away with his own self-importance.”
       The film received Image Awards for Outstanding Motion Picture and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Motion Picture (Morgan Freeman). Producer Norman Twain received the Young Artists Awards' Jackie Coogan Award, and the film was also nominated for Young Artists Awards in the categories Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Young Actor Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Jermaine 'Huggy' Hopkins) and Best Young Actress Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Karen Malina White).
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Chicago Tribune
26 Mar 1989.
---
Daily Variety
23 Jan 1989
p. 1, 3.
Daily Variety
29 Mar 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 May 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jan 1989
p. 4, 102.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Mar 1989.
---
LAHExam
20 Jan 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 Mar 1989
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
3 Mar 1989
Section E, p. 1, 24.
Los Angeles Times
3 Mar 1989
p. 4.
Los Angeles Times
8 Mar 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 Mar 1989
Section E, p. 2.
New York Times
3 Mar 1989
p. 16.
People
13 Jun 1988.
---
Variety
1 Feb 1989
p. 18.
Variety
22 Mar 1989.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Warner Bros. Presents
A Norman Twain Production
A John G. Avildsen Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
D.G.A. trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Gaffer
Best boy
Rigging gaffer
Key grip
Best boy
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
1st asst film ed
1st asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Negative cutting
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Asst prop master
Construction coord
COSTUMES
Ward supv
Ward asst
Ward asst
MUSIC
Orig score by
Mus supv
Mus ed
Mus consultant
Choir vocal arrangements
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Prod mixer
Boom op
Boom op
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles and opticals
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Addl casting
Extra casting
Eastside High School liaison
Prod office coord
Asst prod office coord
Prod accountant
Asst to John G. Avildsen
Asst to John G. Avildsen
Asst to John G. Avildsen
Asst to Norman Twain
Loc mgr
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Craft service
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Project consultant
STAND INS
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
"Lean On Me," performed by Thelma Houston and the Winans, produced by Richard Perry, Courtesy of Qwest Records, written by Bill Withers
"Welcome To The Jungle," performed by Guns N' Roses, courtesy of Geffen Records by arrangement with Warner Special Products, written by Slash, W. Axl Rose, Steven Adler, Izzy Stradlin and Duff Rose McKagen
"You Are The One," performed by TKA, produced by Tony Moran and Joey Gardner, courtesy of Tommy Boy Records, written by K. Lowery and D. Gaskins
+
SONGS
"Lean On Me," performed by Thelma Houston and the Winans, produced by Richard Perry, Courtesy of Qwest Records, written by Bill Withers
"Welcome To The Jungle," performed by Guns N' Roses, courtesy of Geffen Records by arrangement with Warner Special Products, written by Slash, W. Axl Rose, Steven Adler, Izzy Stradlin and Duff Rose McKagen
"You Are The One," performed by TKA, produced by Tony Moran and Joey Gardner, courtesy of Tommy Boy Records, written by K. Lowery and D. Gaskins
"Skeezer," performed and written by Roxanne Shanté, produced by Marley Marl, courtesy of Cold Chillin' Records and Video, Inc. and A & M Records
"After 12," performed by Force M.D.'s, produced and written by Timmy Gatling and Fred McFarlane, courtesy of Tommy Boy Records
"I Ain't Makin' It," performed by Stetsasonic, produced by Daddy-O and DBC, courtesy of Tommy Boy Records, written by Arnold Hamilton, Bob Coulter and Glenn Bolton
"All The Way To Love," performed by Siedah Garrett, produced by Glen Ballard, Brooks Arthur and Michael Schiffer, courtesy of Qwest Records, written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett
"Everybody Is Somebody," performed by RIFF, Teen Dream and Taja Sevelle, produced by Bennett, courtesy of Paisley Park and Warner Bros. Records Inc., written by Winston Bailey
"Lean On Me," performed by Sandra Reaves-Phillips and the cast, produced by Brooks Arthur and Michael Schiffer, also performed by Club Nouveau, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records Inc. by arrangement with Warner Special Products
"Rap Summary (Lean On Me)," performed and written by Big Daddy Kane, produced by Marley Marl, courtesy of Cold Chillin' Records and Video, Inc.
"Hit The Road, Jack," written by Percy Mayfield
"Eastside High School Alma Mater," written by Catherine Peragallo Miller.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
3 March 1989
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 3 March 1989
Production Date:
31 May--late July or early August 1988 in Paterson, NJ
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers, Inc.
Copyright Date:
13 April 1989
Copyright Number:
PA416544
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
108
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29472
SYNOPSIS

African-American history teacher Joe Clark instructs enthusiastic teenagers at Eastside High School in 1967 Paterson, New Jersey. His class is interrupted by fellow African-American teacher Frank Napier, who alerts Joe that their union is holding a meeting without them. Joe interrupts the meeting and demands to know what is going on. Other union members criticize Joe’s antics and reveal that they have accepted a raise and agreed to transfer Joe to another school. Twenty years later, Eastside High has devolved into crime-ridden chaos. Dr. Frank Napier, now the Superintendent of Paterson’s school district, tells Mayor Don Bottman that a new bill has just passed requiring schools to achieve a seventy-five percent passing grade on a basic skills test administered to all students. If a school does not pass, the state of New Jersey will take it over. Frank informs Bottman that only thirty-eight percent of Eastside’s students passed the test the previous year, and suggests Joe Clark take over as the new principal. Although Bottman is wary of the idea, he approves, and Frank visits Joe at the elementary school where he works. Despite Joe’s initial resistance, Frank persuades him to take the job, insisting this is Joe’s chance to make a difference in the world. On his first day at Eastside, Joe shouts at the department heads, demands that nobody speak during the meetings he holds, and requests the names of every hoodlum, drug dealer, and miscreant in the student body by noon. At an all-school assembly, the troublemakers whose names were submitted are called to the stage. Joe addresses the rowdy crowd, who finally take notice when he expels the students onstage and they are ushered out ... +


African-American history teacher Joe Clark instructs enthusiastic teenagers at Eastside High School in 1967 Paterson, New Jersey. His class is interrupted by fellow African-American teacher Frank Napier, who alerts Joe that their union is holding a meeting without them. Joe interrupts the meeting and demands to know what is going on. Other union members criticize Joe’s antics and reveal that they have accepted a raise and agreed to transfer Joe to another school. Twenty years later, Eastside High has devolved into crime-ridden chaos. Dr. Frank Napier, now the Superintendent of Paterson’s school district, tells Mayor Don Bottman that a new bill has just passed requiring schools to achieve a seventy-five percent passing grade on a basic skills test administered to all students. If a school does not pass, the state of New Jersey will take it over. Frank informs Bottman that only thirty-eight percent of Eastside’s students passed the test the previous year, and suggests Joe Clark take over as the new principal. Although Bottman is wary of the idea, he approves, and Frank visits Joe at the elementary school where he works. Despite Joe’s initial resistance, Frank persuades him to take the job, insisting this is Joe’s chance to make a difference in the world. On his first day at Eastside, Joe shouts at the department heads, demands that nobody speak during the meetings he holds, and requests the names of every hoodlum, drug dealer, and miscreant in the student body by noon. At an all-school assembly, the troublemakers whose names were submitted are called to the stage. Joe addresses the rowdy crowd, who finally take notice when he expels the students onstage and they are ushered out by security. Joe tells the remaining students they could be expelled just as easily, and informs them that a practice exam for the basic skills test will be administered in two weeks. They have 110 days before the actual test, and he warns that their futures will depend on it. Parents call an emergency meeting that night. Leona Barrett, whose son was expelled that morning, accuses Joe of denying deserving kids an education. Joe stands by his decision, preaching about the responsibility he feels in his new position, and many of the parents applaud him. The next morning, a freshman named Thomas Sams, who was expelled for skipping class and smoking crack cocaine, pleads with Joe to let him return, claiming he was accused of crimes he did not commit. Joe does not believe him but allows the boy another chance, promising to follow his every move. At Joe’s insistence, the school’s graffiti-covered walls are repainted, and the cages surrounding the food counter in the cafeteria are removed. At lunch, Joe stops Thomas from stealing another student’s food, then humiliates him by demanding he and his friends sing the school song while everyone else remains silent. The boys do not know the song, and Joe announces a new rule that every student must learn the song and be prepared to sing it on command. He goes to the classroom of Mrs. Elliott, the chorus teacher, to inform her that she must teach the song to the entire student body. When she refuses to interrupt the song her students are singing, Joe summons her into the hall and fires her for insubordination. He later suspends Mr. Darnell, an English teacher and assistant football coach, for disrespecting him in the cafeteria, and Ms. Joan Levias, the vice principal, warns Joe that he has caused chaos. After the practice exam is administered, Joe demands Levias track down the results when they do not arrive soon enough. Two students alert him that a fight has broken out and he runs to the scene. There, Joe finds a drug dealer, one of the students he expelled, attacking a student named Kid Ray. Learning that the drug dealer snuck in through a side door, Joe demands that security chain all the side entrances closed, despite fire codes. Later, he sees Kaneesha Carter, a student he taught in elementary school, stewing in the hallway outside his office. When he asks Kaneesha what is wrong, she reveals that her mother has kicked her out of the house. Joe and Levias escort Kaneesha home after school to tell Mrs. Carter what a good student she is. Mrs. Carter reveals that she gave birth to Kaneesha when she was only fifteen years old, and later developed a drug problem. Now that she is getting sober, she does not like herself and thought Kaneesha would be better off without her. Joe offers to help find Mrs. Carter a job, and she agrees to take her daughter back in. A local newspaper refers to Joe as “Crazy Joe Clark” and accuses him of fighting with his student’s parents. Frank warns him that he stands to alienate his students and staff the way he alienated his wife, and forces him to reinstate Mr. Darnell, who, as a young, African-American male teacher, provides a good role model for Eastside students. Fire Chief Gaines arrives at the school for a surprise inspection, but Joe demands he file an official request and sends him away. Soon after, Kid Ray informs Joe that he is quitting school. Guessing that Ray is selling drugs, Joe warns the boy that he will be dead in a year. He sees Thomas and his friends roaming the halls and demands to hear the school song. They sing a beautiful, new arrangement of the song and inform him that the new chorus teacher, Mrs. Powers, taught it to them. Joe finds Mrs. Powers and pretends to be angry before congratulating her on the new arrangement and declaring it Eastside’s new alma mater. The practice exam results finally arrive, revealing that only thirty-three percent of Eastside students passed. Joe addresses the teachers, telling them it is their failure, and demands that a new peer-tutoring program be instituted. Students begin to thrive under Joe’s rigid disciplinary tactics, and he becomes more cheerful around them. Meanwhile, Leona Barrett crusades to have Joe fired, and makes a deal to back Bottman’s next mayoral campaign if he agrees to oust the principal. Having learned that Joe has chained the side entrances to the school, they conspire to send Fire Chief Gaines back for an inspection. Frank and Mr. Rosenberg, the school district attorney, come to Eastside to warn Joe about the plan. When several students approach Joe with their problems at the same time, Ms. Levias tries to get Joe’s attention but he shouts at her. She later accuses him of being an egomaniac who takes sole credit for the work of his entire staff, and asks to be transferred to a different school. On the day of the basic skills test, Joe gives the students a pep talk and gives a knowing nod to Ms. Levias as he stresses the importance of teamwork. Ms. Powers performs the song “Lean on Me,” and the students join her, prompting Ms. Levias to crumple the transfer request Joe handed her that morning. Later that day, Fire Chief Gaines arrives, accompanied by Barrett, and Joe is arrested for breaking the law by chaining fire exits. That night, Barrett addresses the school board at City Hall, demanding Joe’s termination. Inside his jail cell, Joe hears his students walking up the streets, protesting his arrest. They congregate outside City Hall, and Barrett addresses them through a megaphone, urging them to go home. Mayor Bottman releases Joe from his cell to address the students, but they refuse to leave when he asks them to do so. Ms. Levias arrives with a piece of paper and demands that Joe read it. He then gleefully announces that Eastside has passed the basic skills test. The students rejoice. Sometime later, Joe shakes his students’ hands as they accept their diplomas at graduation. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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