Viola Davis attends the “Won’t Back Down” New York Premiere at Ziegfeld Theater on September 23, 2012 in New York City

*Actress Viola Davis says she admires the courage of teachers who protested outside the New York premiere of her controversial new drama “Won’t Back Down.”

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In the film, Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal play desperate moms fighting to reform their children’s failing inner city school after growing unsatisfied with the local education system.

The movie has some teachers upset because they feel it portrays them in a bad light. Dozens of union members took to the streets on Sunday to voice their outrage, holding signs with phrases like, “Won’t Back Down get out of town.”

But despite the added chaos at the premiere, Davis insists she wasn’t insulted by their presence and only hopes the activists understand the cast and crew were not trying to be disrespectful.

“I welcome protest. I welcome discourse. I think discourse is a good thing, I think it spearheads change, I think we saw that in the ’60s,” Davis told “Today” this morning. “That’s why we enjoy some of the privileges we do today. And you know what, in this movie, the teacher, at the of the day, is the hero. They save the day.”

And Davis is no stranger to discourse herself – the actress was once jailed as a toddler after her activist mother staged a protest at Rhode Island’s Brown University in favor of welfare reform.

“Won’t Back Down” hits theaters this Friday (Sept. 28). Watch a promo below.