DNC 2012: Democratic Split Over Education Reform Tested By Hollywood Movie [Video]

NEW YORK | Monday, September 3rd, 2012 1:30am EDT

The most controversial thing to happen at the Democratic National Convention this week may be a movie screening.

A Hollywood movie “Won’t Back Down,” — which opens in theaters nationwide on Sept. 28 —  starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, seems to be following in the footsteps of “Waiting forSuperman,” a 2010 documentary which was strongly criticized as blaming teachers for students’ and schools’ problems.

The movie will be shown to a select crowd of convention-goers in Charlotte, N.C., just as it was one week prior at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

“Won’t Back Down” is a story of parents and teachers using a “parent empowerment” law, better known as “parent trigger” legislation, to take over a bad school, writes People’s World.

“Won’t Back Down” stars Gyllenhaal as a single mother determined to get her daughter out of their failing public elementary school and Davis as a teacher at the school who joins with her to gather parent and teacher signatures behind a proposal to take over the school.

According to The Huff Post, the movie received an overwhelmingly positive response in Tampa. During one pivotal scene involving Viola Davis’ character and her son, people could be heard crying throughout the theater.

The movie is fiction, but, its producers say, is based on real-life situations.

It’s a film about the push for school choice, a movement that has been gaining momentum around the country for the past several years. It is also about teachers’ unions, who are one of the Democratic Party’s biggest and most loyal sources of political contributions.

David Weil, CEO of the Anschutz Film Group whose Walden Media subsidiary produced the movie said that the story is “‘not tied to ‘any one law or event,’ and that the film depicts a number of parents and teachers collaborating in making changes to a school, not doing battle. Several key characters, he said, ‘are teachers and are central heroes to the story.’

“‘We believe that teachers are the unsung heroes of our society and they represent our hope for the future as a nation,’ Weil said.”

However, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers’ union, blasted the film in an open letter, calling it “divisive” and saying it “resorts to falsehoods and anti-union stereotypes.”

“The film contains several egregiously misleading scenes with the sole purpose of undermining people’s confidence in public education, public school teachers and teachers unions,” Weingarten wrote.

The film “could have been a great opportunity to bring parents and teachers together to launch a national movement focused on real teacher and parent collaboration to help all children,” Weingarten said. “Instead, this fictional portrayal … is divisive and demoralizes millions of great teachers.”

The movie’s director, Daniel Barnz, said on Saturday that he was “disappointed” by Weingarten’s letter.

“I think that people are a bit tired of the finger-pointing and scapegoating within this world. I think they just want to see a way in which our schools can improve. That’s the spirit of the film,” said Barnz.

“I think this film is an absolute celebration of teaching. It is pro-teacher and celebrates all the incredible things that teachers do,” Barnz said.

The movie is critical of unions for resisting reforms like greater teacher accountability and more school choice. It hits on some of the same themes as “Waiting for Superman,” a documentary by Davis Guggenheim (who also made the 17-minute pro-Obama film “The Road We’ve Traveled” and Al Gore’s global warming film, “An Inconvenient Truth”).

However, while “Waiting for Superman” was a well-done and well-received documentary, it packed nothing like the emotional wallop of “Won’t Back Down.”

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