Stories like the Chicago Teachers Union strike or SAT scores hitting a 40-year low have brought the urgency of educational underperformance to the fore this fall. Walden Media’s new movie Won’t Back Down is certain to further a much-needed discussion about education reform that couldn’t come soon enough.
At The Heritage Foundation’s Bloggers Briefing Tuesday, Walden’s executive vice president, Chip Flaherty, described the message of Won’t Back Down: It is the story of a parent, frustrated by the low-quality education available to her child and doing anything in her power to chart a better course forward.
Frustrated by the school’s treatment of her daughter, Jamie (a parent played by actress Maggie Gyllenhaal) teams up with Nona, a teacher and mother played by Viola Davis. They work to take control of their children’s school, in order to change the educational opportunities available to them.
Won’t Back Down is inspired by true events, and is based on the parent trigger law first passed in California. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, six other states (Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Texas) have passed some version of this law, and several others are considering it.
In Won’t Back Down, over 50 percent of the parents and the teachers in a school must sign a petition in order to implement one of four turnaround measures, which includes converting a school into a charter school. Most parent trigger laws require 51 percent of only the parents to sign a petition.
Won’t Back Down has already stirred up considerable controversy. Accusations have been made that this film is anti-union. Flaherty, whose company also released Waiting for Superman, however, states that the theme of the movie is parental empowerment. Parents need to feel like they can be involved and make a difference in their children’s education.
“Right now,” says Flaherty, “parents don’t have a seat at the table. They’re in a folding chair, in the corridor, outside of the room. They can’t even see the table.”
In an interview on NBC’s TODAY Show, Viola Davis said that this movie was important to her because education saved her life by opening doors to change and possibility. She also thinks that the protests at the movie’s premiere on Sunday were a good sign.
“I welcome protests, I welcome discourse; I think discourse is a good thing. I think it spearheads change…. And you know what, in this movie, the teacher at the end of the day is the hero. They save the day. And it’s a system that’s broken, that needs to be fixed.”
At one point in the trailer, Davis’s character asks, “What are you going to do with your one and only life?” Hopefully Won’t Back Down will inspire people everywhere to be more invested our children’s education. The film opens in theaters tomorrow.
Elinor Renner is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm