SCAB MOVIE OF THE YEAR MISREPRESENTS CHICAGO, TOO... 'Won't back down' gets panned, but the billionaires still can afford full-page ads misrepresenting the reviews and reception

I had barely begun trying to read the main section of the Sunday (September 30, 2012) New York Times when I bumped into Page 19 in the National Edition, and there it was — a full-page color ad for "Won't Back Down." As Times readers know, almost all of the movie ads in the Times are in the various "Arts" sections, daily and Sunday. So the ad (which had to cost six figures; I'm not going to check to see what they would charge for a full-page color ad from the Chicago Teachers Union) was worth some time and attention.

As usual, the ad was full of fulsome praise for the movie — those enthusiastic quotes that grace such artistic efforts. But one Chicago endorsement of the movie caught my eye. It was from the Chicago Sun-Times: "OUTSTANDING! Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal Give Oscar-Worthy Performances!" (Bill Zwecker, Chicago Sun-Times). The other quotes were from lesser players, as the major critics had panned the movie. I had been clipping and following the reviews of "Won't Back Down" since the trailer (and the American Federation of Teachers) warned that it was another union busting and teacher bashing movie in the (recent) tradition of "Waiting for Superman". We might add that it is in the longer tradition of those trashy propaganda movies bashing those of us who taught in the inner cities like Chicago's going all the way back to "Welcome to Success — the Marva Collins Story" (trashing Chicago teachers and the CTU) and "Stand and Deliver" (trashing Los Angeles teachers and the UTLA). The story line and the biases of these movies has been old since the days when Substance and I exposed the Marva Collins Hoax nearly 30 years ago, but the amazing thing is that in contemporary Hollywood, a teacher bashing and union busting story line is always going to sell.

But back to the September 30, 2012 New York Times. The most famous critic in Chicago, Roger Ebert of the Sun-Times, had given the film two stars and had panned the film, despite the "A List" cast. He had published the following review a few days before the New York Times ad. So someone conveniently left out the major Sun-Times comment to insert a bit of oddball propaganda. Typical perhaps, but worth noting.


Won't Back Down, BY ROGER EBERT, September 26, 2012. cast & credits. Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Nona (Viola Davis), Breena (Rosie Perez), Evelyn (Holly Hunter), Michael (Oscar Isaac), Principal (Bill Nunn). 20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Daniel Barnz. Written by Brin Hill and Barnz. Running time: 121 minutes. Rated PG (for thematic elements and language).

The failing primary school in "Won't Back Down" succeeds in teaching only seventy percent of its graduates to read. The American public education system seems to be in meltdown, producing high school graduates less literate and numerate than the grade school graduates of a few generations ago. "Won't Back Down" blames this failure on teachers' unions and bureaucracy. It embraces a slowly growing movement in which parents vote to take control of their children's own schools, reward gifted teachers, and throw out overpaid, lazy and administrators held in place by seniority. It all sounds so simple — and it is, because the movie makes it simplistic.

In this scenario, based on the proverbial "true story" that isn't even cited in the film's end credits, a heroic working-class mom and a heroic gifted teacher join forces to collect signatures, stage protests and then force a public vote by the school board in which the good guys take over a Pittsburgh grade school. What happens afterward is not very informative; we get one shot of the corridor walls of the new school, papered with student artwork.

Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Jamie Fitzpatrick, a single mom, auto-dealer secretary and night-shift bartender, whose dyslexic third grader Malia (Emily Alyn Lind) is trapped in the classroom of an entrenched teacher (Nancy Bach), who, by common agreement of her colleagues, is the faculty's most overpaid and badly performing member.

Jamie becomes determined to get Malia switched to the classroom of an inspired teacher, Nona Alberts (Viola Davis), but is blocked by the stonewall attitude of the school principal (Bill Nunn). During a heart to heart with Nona, who has been ground down by the system, Jamie asks, "Do you want to start a school with me?" Not without hesitation, Nona agrees.

This launches a formula effort in which the inspirational Jamie energizes an effective opposition, even though the Viola Davis character would seem better suited to that challenge. That's little surprise in a film where typecasting and color-coding makes it easy to predict which characters are good or bad.

The film adds two unnecessary subplots, one involving a romance between Jamie and the heartthrob teacher Michael (Oscar Isaac), and another about Nona's failing marriage with her husband (Lance Reddick), who texts her to say "This isn't working" and leaves for no apparent reason, other than to be an absent dad for their son (Dante Brown), and then to turn up to hug her at the end.

Rosie Perez is utterly misused as Breena, Nona's best pal at school, and Ving Rhames turns up as the principal of a charter school, who presides over a heartbreaking lottery. Both the lottery scene and the anti-union material seem to be fictionalized versions of material in the powerful documentary "Waiting for Superman," which covered similar material with infinitely greater depth.


October 2, 2012 at 4:07 AM

By: Jay Rehak

Let's Boycott Everyone Associated with this movie

Every teacher and friend of real teachers needs to boycott not only this movie, but those who participated in the making of this movie. Collectively, we have great economic power that we need to utilize in our fight against the privateers and profiteers. We need to commit to not spending our money on such films and we need to demonstrate our collective outrage by economically boycotting the actors, directors, producers of this film. We also need to blog these intentions on a large scale. In this way, our collective voice can be heard over the moneyed voice.

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