We were invited to see a screening – followed by a panel discussion – of Won’t Back Down, which comes out this Friday, September 28th. The movie, written and directed by Daniel Barnz, is a fictionalized account of a mother and a teacher who decide that they’ve had enough of their failing school in Pittsburgh, PA, and fight a prolonged battle to turn it into a charter school. Their challenge is to overcome resistance from fellow teachers, parents, the teachers’ union, and the school board – all of whom place enormous obstacles in their path – in order to win a Board of Education vote so they might take over the school and give the children in it a fighting chance to achieve a quality education.
What made this movie extraordinary was that Hollywood had green-lighted a movie that challenges the existing orthodoxy of the education establishment. Those of us committed to this issue had previously sung the praises of Waiting for Superman and The Lottery, two terrific films that show the horrible condition of America’s inner city schools and the discouraging lack of choice for both parents and children. Though deeply moving, they were nonetheless documentaries that played to limited audiences, ultimately garnering box office revenue well below $10 million.
Won’t Back Down has a stellar cast, including Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holly Hunter, Ving Rhames, and Rosie Perez, and is scheduled to open on about 2,000 screens across the country. Documentaries can be quite moving, but this is a full-throated drama that tugs at your heartstrings, yet never forgets the central purpose of the film – the kids and their education.
It should come as no surprise that even though the film has not yet been formally released, it has already been attacked by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. She cast the film as anti-union even though one of the two primary union characters (Holly Hunter) appears in a favorable light.