“Won’t Back Down,” a new movie starring Oscar-nominated actresses Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, won’t arrive in theaters until the end of September—but the film, which centers on a mother and a teacher taking over a troubled public school, already has stirred up controversy.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has denounced the movie for “using the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I have ever seen” and “affixing blame” for the problems of U.S. public education “on the wrong culprit: America’s teachers unions.”
Weingarten’s criticism came on the same day that the film’s distributor, Twentieth Century Fox, screened the PG-rated movie at the Republican National Convention, along with a question-and-answer session moderated by newscaster Campbell Brown.
The film’s director, Daniel Barnz, and producer Mark Johnson participated in the post-screening discussion along with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is now chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education; Michelle Rhee, the former D.C. schools chancellor and founder of Students First; and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The filmmakers also plan to show the picture at the Democratic National Convention next week in Charlotte, N.C.
Weingarten’s main beef with the film centers on the tension between the teachers union and the local parents group headed by Gyllenhaal’s character, a single mother with a drive to better her child’s education in a public school.
In an interview streaming at the Huffington Post, Gyllenhaal and Davis contend the movie’s message is about parental empowerment.
“You can be the difference,” Davis said.
Shot in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill, Mount Washington, and Hill District neighborhoods, the film centers on two determined mothers, one a burned-out teacher, mobilizing an effort to transform a failing inner-city school.
“Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, they risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children,” the film’s website says.
Holly Hunter plays the adversarial teachers union representative.
The movie addresses the hot-button political topic of “parent trigger laws,” under consideration in some states and at the center of a recent courtroom battle in Adelanto, Calif.