Is the Lean on Me Movie a True Story?

Joe Clark, the real-life principal who inspired Morgan Freeman’s 1989 movie Lean on Me, has died at his Florida home at 82. This role featured Joe as an authoritarian disciplinarian bringing order into an otherwise chaotic New Jersey high school where gang members and drug dealers reigned supreme. Clark used expulsion and roaming halls with baseball bats as tools of discipline – winning both admirers and critics during his time. He will be sorely missed.

Lean on Me is inspired by Bill Withers’ song of the same name and tells the tale of Joe Clark, an educator who took over Eastside High School in Paterson and turned it into a thriving academic environment for its inner city students. Based on true events, this film tells their tale as it was threatened with state takeover until test scores improved significantly for Eastside High.

As the movie opens, Eastside High is an unsafe environment where students frequently skip class and drugs are plentiful. Joe Clark arrives as its principal with his bullhorn and Louisville Slugger to control misbehaving students and chain school doors to keep troublemakers at bay while keeping strivers enrolled in classes. Parents and teachers strongly oppose his methods while his pupils overwhelmingly love him.

The movie takes some liberties with reality (for more on that topic see this Cracked article), yet is an inspiring tale about one good man doing what needed to be done in an unpredictable society. Furthermore, it raises key questions about whether ends ever justify means.

It’s an ideal movie choice for family discussion, though children should be prepared for some strong language and adult-themed material. Morgan Freeman stars as the main protagonist; everyone will find this movie riveting! A must-watch for anyone interested in an inspiring true story!