Teachers and parents have gathered in protest over the new 20th Century Fox and Walden Media movie “Won’t Back Down,” but the two studios stand sternly behind the film. The movie stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as single-mothers fed up with their children’s Pittsburgh school, who enact a parent-trigger law to allow parents and teachers to choose alternative governance for their kids' school.
Zakiyah Ansari, a mother of eight, an education advocate and the organizer of the protest, made her voice heard along with about 50 other protestors on Sunday. The group stood outside Ziegfeld Theatre for the movie’s New York premiere, an article in the Hollywood Reporter said.
"I'm not Maggie Gyllenhaal, but I play her in real life," jokes Ansari, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "When you have a super PAC like StudentsFirst pushing this movie, we are not fooled. We know the agenda of this group pushes for more testing, closures, teacher bashing and the privatization of our public schools."
The Hollywood Reporter also notes that “Won’t Back Down” has gotten negative reactions from the American Federation of Teachers and grass-roots parent groups. Irate reactions to the film have apparently been making their way to Fox and Walden since last month, but those involved with the film have stood their ground.
“Won’t Back Down” producer Mark Johnson said that his film is a, "…compelling drama, and we hope that, like all good storytelling, it inspires conversation and emotion,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The film won’t be released until Sept. 28, but reviews from critics who saw the film before its release this Friday have given it mediocre reviews. “Won’t Back Down” currently holds a 33 percent freshness score on the aggregative film review website, Rotten Tomatoes.
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune claims that “You know exactly where the movie stands straight off,” after describing the film’s opening with an apathetic teacher. “[‘Won’t Back Down’] represents an unusually blunt attempt to make movie audiences feel good about feeling lousy about public education and the good-for-nothing union-coddled teachers destroying a generation of learners.”
Rex Reed of the New York Observer didn’t find the films content offensive, saying “As a message picture, its heart is in the right place.” The critic did go on to denounce the film’s overall quality: “[‘Won’t Back Down’] doesn't always manage to rise above a swirl of predictable Hollywood clichés.”
Despite mediocre reviews and the strong reaction from parent and teacher groups, the studios are enjoying the publicity the film is getting. "I happen to know that the protestors who are here tonight are protesting something different than what the movie is actually about," said director Daniel Barnz to MSNBC, according to the Hollywood Reporter
"I'm glad they admit the movie is fiction," says American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten after seeing “Won’t Back Down” in August, after requesting a screening. "No school has ever been transformed using a parent trigger law because parents agree that we should fix, not close, schools and [parents] don't like the idea of turning their school over to private managers.".