This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a press junket at the Ritz Carlton in Manhattan, for the new film Won't Back Down. The day included an advanced screening of the film and interviews with co-writer/director Daniel Barnz and cast members Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rosie Perez and Oscar Issac.
The inspirational storyline of Won't Back Down follows two women as they embark on a journey to incite change within their failing public school system. Though from two very different backgrounds, as mothers, they share the universal desire to provide the very best that they can for their children.
Jaimie Fitzpatrick [Maggie Gyllenhaal] is a struggling young mother, who works two jobs. She feels powerless as she watches her child struggle in a classroom that is lead by an unmotivated teacher that is protected by tenure and a Union contract.
Nona Alberts [Viola Davis] is a teacher at Adams Elementary School, and a mother. Through her inner struggle with guilt over a bad decision and a failing marriage, she loses her passion for teaching. Nona comes to a crossroads; both in her career and as a mother.
When Jaimie and Nona forge a partnership to take over the school via the "fail safe" act, they inspire an entire community to unite in the face of change, and ultimately they find themselves in the process.
The fictional "fail safe" act depicted in Won't Back Down is loosely based on parent trigger laws and the 2010 events surrounding a failing Los Angeles public school [Mount Gleason Middle School]. Parent trigger laws are currently in place in 7 states [California, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Texas] in the United States. The majority of these laws [which vary by state] require 50% of the parents from a failing school to sign a petition in order to file a "parent trigger" petition, to ultimately force the transformation of the failing school.
In Won't Back Down, Daniel Barnz [co-writer & director] created the fictional "fail safe" act; not necessarily to shed light on parent trigger laws, but instead to "inspire". "My feeling is I'm a filmmaker, so my primary job is really to tell the best story that I can, to entertain, if at all possible, to inspire. That's what I tried to do with this movie, specifically vis-à-vis the parent trigger laws" said Daniel Barnz.
Mr Barnz went on to say, "I want you to know the parent trigger laws, but I think a lot of people quickly, you know, refer to the film as a parent trigger movie on all sides. I'm a bit sensitive about it just because I think the parental activism that is at the heart of parent trigger movement is fantastic. I mean, anything that we can do to empower parents is great.
But, the narrative of the film is slightly different. The parent trigger laws basically say that if there's a failing public school, then 50 percent of the parents can come together and then they can determine what happens to that school.
But, in the film, I set up a fictional law in which it has to be 50 percent of the parents and 50 percent of the teachers. And that was really important to me because I wanted this to be a film that was about parents and teachers coming together to create change.
I come from a long line of educators, I am the son of teachers and the grandson of teachers, I really wanted to pose the question can educators be involved in this process, because some of the most successful public schools that I've seen, like my mother-in-law's school, are driven by the vision of a really passionate educator.
That’s how this film is a little bit different from the parent trigger laws that we see in the States today."
|Pictured above (from top): Maggie Gyllenhaal and Rosie Perez at the NYC Press Event 9-21-2012|
It was refreshing to witness the cast who were truly vested and passionate about the storyline of this film; each had either experienced first hand or had encountered a failing public school. The cast spoke of their personal experiences and how they used those experiences to more accurately portray their individual roles in this film.
Greenwood, Mississippi I believe has a 17 percent unemployment rate. Baptist Town had a 85 percent unemployment rate. It's an all Black community and they haven't had a single high school graduate in five years.
I've been within the halls of Central Falls Junior Senior High School, that was my school growing up. It’s very sad"
The "fail safe" act though fictional, depicts two sides coming together for the good of the children. Which is ideal. If educators and parents can come together, the possibilities for the next generation are infinite.
As Rosie Perez aptly pointed out, "All these kids need is an opportunity. When you present them with the opportunity, they will rise to the occasion each and every time. I've seen it first hand" she said [referencing her charity, Urban Arts Partnership].
Won't Back Down is a poignant tale of the boundless determination and love that accompany motherhood. A definite must see!
Won't Back Down takes a raw and unflinching look at the current state of our country's education system, and provides an optimistic and actionable point of view for parents, teachers, and community activists alike.
A fictional story inspired by actual events, the film chronicles the journey of two women, a struggling mother played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and a veteran teacher played by Viola Davis, who embark on a mission to turn around their kids' failing school. Against all odds and countless obstacles, they persevere and ultimately succeed, providing a better education and better life for their children, as well as other kids in their community.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Holly Hunter, Oscar Isaac, Rosie Perez, Marianne-Jean Baptiste, Ving Rhames, Lance Reddick, Bill Nunn, Emily Alyn Lind, and Dante Brown.
Won't Back Down opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, September 28, 2012.
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