Movie Protested for Pitching Hope for Public Schools


Won’t Back Down, a movie depicting a crummy public school that’s apparently commandeered by a fed-up parent (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and a concerned teacher (Viola Davis), is not sitting well with some. It seems both unions and parent groups are enraged (cue Middle East stock footage) by the notion that it’s possible to take down the bureaucracy and the complacent unions and save poor kids from a life of minimum-wage jobs and penury and cue Rocky music.

During the film’s premiere at the Ziegfeld Theatre in midtown Manhattan, protestors gathered to scream at whoever would listen. They represented a group called

New Yorkers for Great Public Schools Coalition, an umbrella group of parents that gathered across the street. The protestors oppose the “parent trigger” laws that inspired the events of the film, through which parents can take over a failing school and possibly turn it into a charter school. Shouting “Move on over corporate takeover,” the group protested the film’s financial backers, right-wing billionaires Philip Anschutz (of Walden Media) and Rupert Murdoch (CEO of News Corporation).

But really NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has clashed frequently with teachers’ unions. The unions are not crazy about the movie either. American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten, a Bloomberg antagonist,

saw the movie after requesting a screening in August [and] remains unimpressed. “I’m glad they admit the movie is fiction,” she says. “No school has ever been transformed using a parent trigger law because parents agree that we should fix, not close, schools and [parents] don’t like the idea of turning their school over to private managers.”

As for the stars’ reactions, Gyllenhaal said

she came from “the most progressive left. I wouldn’t be allowed to go home for Thanksgiving if I made an anti-union movie.”

Wait a minute: her family is “most progressive left” and they celebrate Thanksgiving? What next? Christmas?

And the director, Daniel Barnz, added:

“The whole movie is about the benefits of protesting. There are many scenes of protesting in the film. I happen to know that what they’re protesting is different from what the movie is actually about. They’re here protesting parent trigger laws and as I explained to you this is not a parent trigger movie.” The film’s fictional law requires both parents and teachers to vote to take over the school.

Meanwhile, SAT scores nationwide are at a calamitously low level: just 43% of test takers are prepared for college. 

But just so long as everyone’s protesting. Because that’s what it’s all about. Adults jockeying for positions of power (cue Jaws music).