On this day back in 1989, Lean on Me debuted in theaters nationwide. The biographical drama was loosely based on the story of Joe Clark, a principal from Paterson, New Jersey, who turned a troubled school around. The film starred then Oscar nominee Morgan Freeman, who portrayed Clark as a passionate, arrogant, angry, but still a likable figure. The film was met with strong reviews, mainly because of Freeman’s amazing performance.
While Lean on Me was based on the true story of Clark, much of it was fictional. Contrary to its portrayal in the movie, the school was never in trouble of being shut down, and test scores did not go up, but violence did decrease. Nonetheless, Lean on Me gave an insightful look into urban schools and how they are often ignored by the public school system, given no motivation, funding or even faith that they can succeed.
The film, which had a predominately African-American cast, was a hit, garnering over $5 million opening weekend and grossing nearly $32 million. In 1991, Lean on Me won NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Motion Picture and Outstanding Lead Actor.
Check out the vintage trailer below.