Why Are Public School Advocates Boycotting Viola Davis’ New Film?

August 21, 2012  |  

Source: blogs.indiewire.com

Viola Davis is no stranger to playing controversial roles.

While it was her role as Aibileen Clark in The Help that garnered her an Oscar nomination, her role, as well as the film in general, caused quite a stir in the black community for its Disney like portrayal of race relations in the 1960s, particularly that belonging to black maids and their white employers. Now, Davis now finds herself under scrutiny again for a her role in a new film called Won’t Back Down, which also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holly Hunter and Ving Rhames.

In the film, which has a release date of September 28th, Davis stars as school teacher/single mom, who teams up with a bartender/single mom, to tackle the monumental challenges of fixing a crumbling inner city school. In the trailer for the film, we see Gyllenhaal angrily pontificating over the need for change after her daughter, who we learn can’t read, is seen crying in the school’s broom closet after being punched in the face by a teacher. Not sure what Viola’s plot points are, as the trailer doesn’t focus much on her grievances, other than being sidekick to a feisty, motivated white woman.  But this film is said to have been inspired by a true events and we get to watch as these two lead the charge against an entrenched bureaucracy to takeover a school through a fictionalized version of a parent trigger law. These laws, passed in 2010, give parents the option to petition to overhaul the staff in an underperforming public school and turn it into a charter school.

The film has the same sort of David versus Goliath feel good education stories we come to be fond of over the years. Movies like Lean on Me, Stand and Deliver and Dangerous Minds largely appeal to us because it gives us hope that the answer to poverty and rampant violence in some of our poorest urban communities comes solely in the form of high educational standards and tough as nails, overly-devoted teachers, who are not only willing to buck the system but stand in as absentee parents to these wayward children as well. As such, it should be hit. However, despite the feel good nature, the film is also being heavily criticized for allegedly pushing an anti-union, pro-charter school agenda.

Some critics have complained that the film is a cloak its anti-teacher, anti-union slate, particularly highlight the films focus on “parent trigger” laws, which has been used to replaced unionized teachers with non-union charter schools. Such laws have been passed in several states, including California, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana with more states considering their adoption.   Moreover, the film itself is produced through partnership between 20th Century Fox and Walden Media, a subsidiary of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which in turn is a subsidiary of the Anschutz Company.  The Anschutz company is owned by Philip Anschutz, an oil-and-gas billionaire, who has donated money to Americans for Prosperity, a right wing, anti- union, anti-environment regulations, anti-Obamacare (among other things), political advocacy group founded by the Koch Brothers. Besides Won’t Back Down, Anschutz is also behind the 2010 film Waiting for ‘Superman,’ a documentary called by many educators as inaccurate propaganda meant to push a pro-charter school agenda.

According to Parents Across America, a pro-public school education group, these parent trigger legislations are part of a larger pro-school privatization model legislation, written and promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). For those unaware, ALEC is federalist and conservative lobbying group, which pairs corporations with legislators for the creation of model bills. Portions, if not all, of these model bills have found themselves the basis of actual state and federal laws including various school privatization acts, voter ID laws and Stand Your Ground/Castle Doctrine laws, which were hotly debated in the Trayvon Martin killing.

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  • our education system needs to be revamp all the way around, from private to public to charter to magnum schools. until we can understand that no matter what our school get turn into we are going to continue to fall into the same sink whole.

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  • FromUR2UB

    I’ll have to see how charter schools play out over time. Whatever parents have to do to ensure that there are teachers at their schools who are taking their jobs seriously, and that those schools are getting the resources necessary to aid children in their learning, I’m all for that. But, if a child isn’t required to study at home, he/she can be dumb anywhere. A great school can’t compensate for that.

  • dcarter910

    It’s been proven time and time again that teacher’s unions are meant to do one thing, and that is keep low performing teachers getting paid. Anything that promotes the end of the teachers union I am all for.

    But I also believe in increasing teacher’s pay and giving schools more power to “eject” problematic children.

    • Bishop

      Your comment is simply not true can you provide the source for your opinion you purport as fact.

    • FromUR2UB

      “Eject” problematic children and do what with them?


    Great Education should be a no-brainer. If a country wants a bright future, you ought to educate the youths!!

  • calixteliss

    I think this is bull! It seems that some people are willing to see an agenda behind everything they don’t agree with. And what are they expecting? That this movie will persuade millions of parents to take over their local schools? *eye roll*

    • Jenn

      LMAO…Right! I can’t just support Viola and be entertained geez!

    • Gye Nyame

      As an educator I can tell you there is an agenda b/c there is a ton of money to be made if they privatize public education. Tell me, since when have hedge fund managers ever been interested in urban education? The money will be made off the backs of black and brown children as well as poor whites. Just like the housing market “financiers” will make as much as they can with this charter school charade, and just like the housing market PE will collapse and they will simply walk away, you know why…b/c their kids are in private schools.

  • dontdoit

    You want better schools, look to parental involvement, period.

    • Papillon

      Say it again, and louder!

    • TRUTH IS

      You know it’s funny, my parents didn’t reach as far in education so they weren’t in the position to teach/tutor me but my dad was strict as hell (a retired chief cop) so he would be involved with my grades a lot. He sent me to school and expected good grades. How I got good grades were up to me (because I knew I couldn’t take home average grades or F’s) and the teacher. I was grateful that the teachers were passionate about their students learning. I went to school in the caribbean, who I believe has a better education system. Jmo! The american system is quite different, everything is about money!!