Last week the National School Boards Association’s former Executive Director Anne L. Bryant gave a review dismissing the new film “Won’t Back Down,” which opened in theaters across the country this weekend. She noted, “While we wouldn’t expect a Hollywood production about public schools to be grounded in research-based facts, there are many reasons to be concerned about the images of educators portrayed in the movie and the fanfare surrounding this type of law — which so far has only been used in one instance but has piqued the interest of legislatures in several states.”
“While ‘parent involvement’ always sounds agreeable, we have research showing that certain parental strategies work much better than others — and parent trigger laws are far from being a proven methodology,” Bryant writes.
The film, which conveys a fictional story of a mother who seeks to enact a parent-trigger law on her daughter’s underperforming school, seeks to elicit more discussion about that type of law.
Seems Bryant’s criticism was not alone. Leading movie critics bashed the film is their reviews.
The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday noted, “it becomes clear that the movie has been designed as an anti-union, pro-charter screed, the fictional counterpart to the 2010 documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman.’”
Connie Ogle of The Miami Herald stated, “A story ‘inspired’ by real events, the film feels more like an anti-union screed than an inspiring story of educators and parents taking chances to improve a failing school. You can tell by the way the script carefully places token pro-union sentiments in the mouths of some of its characters, then sets up pro-union forces as the ultimate villains of the piece. Nothing wrong with a movie having a point of view, but watching people spout jargon or exposition doesn’t really make for riveting entertainment.”
Ella Taylor of NPR called the film, “a propaganda piece with blame on its mind.”
With all the negative reviews, seems movie goers didn’t care to see it either. The Los Angeles Times reported on the weekend box office numbers and highlighted the film’s dismal success by noting, “The only new wide release to be greeted with poor response this weekend was “Won’t Back Down,” the education drama starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal that tanked with $2.7 million.” The article continued by stating, “Though it sparked debate among the education community, “Won’t Back Down” failed to lure moviegoers to the box office this weekend.”
“Won’t Back Down” was produced by Walden Media, the company that also funded the 2010 pro-charters documentary Waiting for “Superman”. Walden Media is owned by Philip F. Anschutz, a strong supporter of conservative causes and former oil and gas baron who has an estimated net worth of $6 billion, according to Forbes. Anschutz operates the Anschutz Foundation and has a variety of media holdings including Anschutz Entertainment Group, Walden Media, and the Washington, D.C. conservative daily The Examiner.
Anschutz has ties to the far right—including the funding of anti-gay groups, anti-union organizations, and those who deny climate change and evolutionary science. His venture into education reform includes the Anschutz Foundation’s donation of $110,000 to the Alliance for Choice in Education between 1998 and 2008. Walden Media’s goal is to develop films to be “entertaining, but also to be life affirming and to carry a moral message.” With “Won’t Back Down”, Anschutz continued his education reform and anti-union agenda by underwriting a fictional film that misrepresents teachers unions, school boards, and highlights parent trigger efforts as the preferred way to improve a failing school.
So have you seen “Won’t Back Down,” or have you decided to skip it? Share your thoughts in the comments section.