Although the initial box office numbers for Won’t Back Down weren’t promising, that doesn’t mean that the film itself is unimportant — if only in presenting an alternative view of education from that promoted by members and supporters of the teachers unions around the country. Although opposition to teachers unions can hardly be thought of as invisible, with many politicians even from the Democratic Party openly voicing their dissatisfaction with the labor groups, the faces of Rahm Emanuel and Arne Duncan are less likely to evoke sympathy in the same way as those of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, the stars of the film.
The movie’s path from production to the big screens of the theaters around the country has been fraught with criticism. Teachers unions have called into question everything from the story to the agenda of the groups providing funding. At the same time, anti-union voices have been almost unanimous in their support, and the film received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic reception when it was screened during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.
The New York Times is reporting that on this weekend, when the movie was scheduled to go into wide release, the United Federation of Teachers, the group that represents the majority of New York City’s public school teachers, announced a massive ad buy on all the major NYC television networks. Was this just a coincidence, NYT asks?
It was, according to the statement made by Michael Mulgrew, UFT president. It seems like the ad buy was in the works for months. To prove his point, Mulgrew pointed out that there was no similar advertising campaign planned for the release of pro-school-choice documentary Waiting for Superman, released in 2010, and it would hardly be worth while to spend all this money to counteract the message sent out by what is, after all, “a work of fiction.”
But Mr. Mulgrew took a dig at the new film, saying no nonfictional attempt by parents to take over a school had worked. Of two efforts to use the California “parent trigger” law,which allows parents to take over collapsing schools, one failed and another, in Adelanto, near San Bernardino, was recently approved by a state court but blocked by the local school board.
The UFT is following the lead of its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, which has also made recent investments in a campaign to improve its public image. AFT’s efforts don’t include nationwide media advertising; instead, they’re looking to make a more personal connection with communities around the country. The organization also took notice of the movie, with the AFT’s president Randi Weingarten issuing a stinging rebuke upon its release.
Randi Weingarten issued a 2,025-word statement attacking the new movie as “a false and misleading depiction of teachers and unions.” She also appeared Friday morning on CNN to criticize parent trigger laws, which are on the books in seven states, and she noted on Twitter that many reviewers had panned the film.