I haven't read the book, but I've watched the movie a number of times since it came out because it was always on on HBO.. The story was inspired by a true story of gang violence and racial conflict in Long Beach, California in 1992. What happened there significantly influenced the behavior of students in the area in their day-to-day lives, including their academic lives. It's especially relevant to this course because of how the teacher is shown to deal with students living lives that are torn apart by conflict and can't seem to take their education seriously. They are especially wary of having a white woman boss them around and tell them how to live their lives. Even though the protagonist is a white woman, the story focuses more on the individual stories of her students as each of them write them down in their creative journals for the course. The movie/book also has certain pedagogical implications for teachers dealing with students who come from conflict-torn environments.
It is difficult to see past the white savior complex in the movie, but the real life story (I feel) adds more to it contextually. The female lead in the movie is based on Erin Gruwell, a teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach who helped her students immensely. In real life, however, she wasn't the only one responsible; most of the other teachers in the school played just as important of a role, but she was the only one who received media attention.
It is interesting to see that after the movie was made based on the true events, most Long Beach residents were not too happy about how they had been represented and felt like the narrative had been overly simplified and incorrectly displayed most teachers at the school as bitter and perpetually burned out, and all students as miscreants and criminals. Gruwell, however, defends her representation in movie and says that most people at the time were critical of her "different" pedagogical methods. She does, however, agree that the representation of the other teachers in the movie was "Hollywood exaggeration."
Re-watching the movie now and reading about the true events that transpired has definitely helped me look at it from a different perspective, but I still think it does a decent job of reaffirming the need for prioritizing the building of healthy and mutually understanding relationships with students.
I'd recommend giving it a watch/read.