*Daniel Barnz’s “Won’t Back Down,” a drama about the American education system, is ruffling some serious feathers.
No surprise here, as any film that brings into focus teachers sitting on their behinds, not doing their jobs because they know those jobs are protected by a system put in place (unionization); well, suffice it to say, it will push some buttons.
The film stars Viola Davis, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, as a parent and teacher duo who, incensed by the failing public school there kids attend, decide to take action. Rosie Perez plays a teacher whose thinking changes over time in the movie.
In it, Gyllenhaal and Davis portray a single mother and a veteran teacher, respectively, who team up and lead an effort to shut down a failing public school and replace it with a new non-union charter school using a little-known and rarely-invoked “parent-trigger law” — referred to in the film as the “fail safe-law” — that is now on the books in seven states.
Perez plays a teacher whose thoughts about their actions change over the course of the film from strong opposition to vocal support.
The film was financed by Walden Media, a production company owned by conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz (which also distributed the pro-charter education doc Waiting for Superman), and is being distributed by 20th Century Fox, the studio whose parent company is run by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch (who also oversees right-leaning Fox News), facts that have fueled suspicion about the film’s real agenda — particularly in the aftermath of the recent clash in Wisconsin between Republican governor Scott Walker and unions, which thrust the labor debate back into the forefront of the national discussion.
Davis, Gyllenhaal and Perez — all members of the Screen Actors Guild — insist that they strongly support unions but do not believe that means that unions are perfect. They feel strongly that any idea that benefits children in failing schools deserves consideration.
“I belong to three unions. I don’t think the film is anti-union,” says Viola Davis. “At the end of the day, [the film is] pro-education. It’s pro-student. And I think the discourse is good. At what point did we feel that stirring the pot is a bad thing?”
Gyllenhaal, whose parents and brother also work in the film industry and belong to unions, adds, “Honestly, I wouldn’t be allowed to come home for Thanksgiving if I made an anti-union movie — like, you have to understand where I come from — and yet there are a lot of problems with the teachers union. I feel like I don’t want to be scared into not saying that. There are.”
Perez, who works in public education through an arts-education charity and regards her colleagues as heroes, says, “I knew the film was going to push people’s buttons, and those buttons needed to be pushed.”
It will be interesting to see how this all pans out. Movies of this ilk seem to make a lot of noise for a short period of time, then die out, and you wonder what it was all about anyway. That would be a real shame for this to happen about such an important issue.
Read/learn more at The Hollywood Reporter.
Check out the trailer below.