The people behind the motion picture “Won’t Back Down,” which details the challenges faced by those looking to reform their local schools, wished to screen it before the largest gatherings of politicians held this year — the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. While obtaining permission for a showing one week before the kickoff of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida wasn’t an issue, when the filmmakers attempted to secure a similar commitment from the Democratic Party, things got a lot more complicated.
According to the sources interviewed by The Huffington Post, the decision to screen went up the entire party chain of command to President Barack Obama’s closest campaign advisers Valerie Jarrett and David Plouffe, who finally punted it to the people calling the shots for the Democratic National Committee. In the end, the DNC’s political director Patrick Gaspard was the one to approve the showing.
The feedback from the audience in Tampa was overwhelmingly positive, and no wonder. Education reform, which is the focus of the film, is an issue near and dear to the vast majority of Republican party supporters. Even as they were preparing for the showing in Charlotte, filmmakers didn’t expect a reception nearly as welcoming.
The movie is a fictional account of a single mother, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, teaming up with a school teacher to try to use a “parent trigger” law similar to the law in place in California, to have Gyllenhaal’s daughter transferred to a better school. Teachers at the school are some of the villains in the film — a fact that did not go unnoticed by some of the Democratic Party’s strongest supporters: the teachers unions.
Although the filmmakers were anticipating protests outside the showing, in the end, fewer than two dozen people actually showed up to picket the screening. After such a lackluster turnout, the protest was cancelled. Still, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, sent out a letter last week criticizing the depiction of teachers unions as stereotypical.
The movie’s director, Daniel Barnz, said in an interview 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, who described himself as a “liberal Democrat” from a family of educators.
“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.