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Working America: 10 Reasons Not to See 'Won't Back Down'

"10 Reasons Not to See 'Won't Back Down'" is a cross-post from Working America's Main Street blog

The Walden Media film "Won’t Back Down," starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, opens in theaters today. The film dramatizes a parent fighting to improve her child’s school, but it’s actually a dishonest Hollywood portrayal of the problems in our educational system—funded by the very people who want to privatize and profit from our schools. Here are 10 reasons to skip it:

"Won’t Back Down" is “inept and bizarre.” Andrew O’Hehir, reviewing for, writes that "Won’t Back Down' is “a set of right-wing anti-union talking points disguised (with limited success) as a mainstream motion-picture-type product.”

"Won’t Back Down" promotes an ALEC [American Legislative Exchange Council]-model bill. The film promotes the “parent trigger” law, an ALEC-created policy proposal that turns public schools into privately run charter schools. ALEC also brought you Arizona’s draconian immigration law, Pennsylvania’s disenfranchising voter ID law and Wisconsin’s union-busting Act 10.

"Won’t Back Down" is deeply deceptive. The “parent trigger” law promoted by the film has only been used twice in real life. Both instances have created “legal and community disasters,” writes’s Alexander Zaitchik.

"Won’t Back Down" promotes horrible (and untrue) stereotypes about teachers. The film shows public school teachers as listless and uncaring. One teacher is even shown locking a girl in a closet. As Randi Weingarten writes in The Washington Post:

I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie….The teachers I know are women and men who have devoted their lives to helping children learn and grow and reach their full potential. These women and men come in early, stay late to mentor and tutor students, coach sports teams, advise the student council, work through lunch breaks, purchase school supplies using money from their own pockets and spend their evenings planning lessons, grading papers and talking to parents.

"Won’t Back Down" helps fund anti-union causes. Walden Media, which produced the film, is owned by Philip Anschutz, whose foundation has donated $210,000 to the anti-union National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

"Won’t Back Down" avoids the real issues. Writing in variety, Peter DeBruge points out the film is “grossly oversimplifying” education reform.  Rather, it’s a “disingenuous pot-stirrer [that] plays to audiences’ emotions rather than their intelligence.”

"Won’t Back Down" is a “heavy-handed lecture disguised as art.” Elizabeth Weitzman, reviewing for the New York Daily News, begins “I am neither anti-charter schools nor anti-union.” In the film, however, “the plot is just a clothesline on which to hang an unabashedly biased diatribe….Every so often they remember they’re writing a movie and not attending a debate, so they’ll shove in a rushed romance, or an out of nowhere personal revelation.”

"Won’t Back Down" is being heavily promoted by the right-wing. Groups promoting the film include the Heritage Foundation, Freedom Works and the Chamber of Commerce, who are also lending support to right-wing candidates.

"Won’t Back Down" scapegoats teachers and their unions, but ignores all other factors. As Liza Featherstone writes in Dissent:

Jamie [the film’s protagonist] leads the fictional takeover because her daughter, who is dyslexic, can’t read. Yet not a word is said in the movie about the need for more services and teachers for special needs kids….

Never mind those wonky details. The problem, we’re repeatedly led to believe, is the teachers’ union. But if unions were to blame for failing schools, wouldn’t unionized public schools in Princeton or Scarsdale also suck?

Hollywood hasn’t been known to let logic get in the way of a good story, and neither do education reformers.

Finally: "Won’t Back Down" isn’t your best option. Going to the movies this weekend? Try the musical comedy "Pitch Perfect," the sci-fi thriller Looper, or, of course, this classic re-release about a brave teacher (well, archaeology professor).

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