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

August 21, 2012  |  

If that is not enough to get your goat, Rita Solnet, founding member of Parents Across America, who had attended an advance screening of the film, said “Within the first few minutes, projected on the screen in large letters are the words, “Inspired By True Events.”   That conveys the message that parents and teachers took over and ran a school somewhere in our nation.  That never happened.  I suppose that sells better than opening the film with, “This is Fictitious.”

In fact, there has only been one public school district in any of the four active Parent Trigger States in history that invoked the trigger option. And we don’t know how successful that will be considering that the California courts just voted to uphold the parents petition for takeover only a month ago and the new proposed charter has yet to go into operation.  So where exactly are these “true events” this film is said to be inspired by?

In the meantime, some educators and concerned parents have already decided to boycott the film. Joseph Knapp, teacher and member of the New York State Union of Teachers, has created a Boycott of Movie Won’t Back Down page on Facebook, which already has over 400 members. I reached out to Knapps last week and he told me that the group is an organized effort of many educators who not only want to educate people about parent trigger laws but who are basically fed up with being bashed by the media and politicians alike. Moreover, “We are hoping that people will not go see this movie because it is another piece of union busting propaganda produced by people who have a vested interest in the privatization of public schools. In other words, those who stand to make a huge profit from this ‘education reform’ movement.”

Likewise, many frustrated educators have gone to the movie’s fan page, leaving their displeasure with the film there. Some have even begun a letter writing campaign to not only the film’s producers but also the stars of the film particularly  Gyllenhaal and Davis asking them to denounce the themes in the film.  No word yet on a Davis response however according to a New York Times article, Daniel Barnz, the director and a writer of  Won’t Back Down, contends that the film does not have an agenda and only introduced the parent trigger law as a plot device. Instead he says that, “I am extremely pro-union.”

Whatever your stand on education reform, you have to admit that these films really do little to add to the conversation – mainly because of the oversimplification and flat out fictionalization of facts. Real life is more complicated than that. And so are the problems with education. While public schools often get the blame for the reasons so many children are failing, new studies suggest that charter schools are not fairing any better in terms of raising academic standards, reducing truancy and improving student behavior. Likewise, I don’t know how much pull Davis would have in restricting the conversation. After all, she is just an actress, not the film’s producers. However it does beg a Harry Belafonte question about the lack of awareness and activism from those artists with real platforms.

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