“Won’t Back Down”
Drama Inspired By
Parent Trigger Law
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
California has a “parent trigger law” that allows parents to take control of underperforming schools. In 2010 a group of parents citing that new state law attempted to take over failing public schools in the Sunland-Tujunga community of Los Angeles.
That event was the inspiration for “Won’t Back Down,” the new movie starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as a pair of women (a mother and a teacher) who, as the title says, won’t back down to the head of a teacher’s union and the school’s principal when trying to improve the education for their kids. This fictional account takes place in Pittsburgh.
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Jake’s sister, nominated for an Academy Award for “Crazy Heart”) plays a bartender-mom who wants more for her child. And Viola Davis (Academy Award nods for “Doubt” and “The Help”) joins her in this crusade.
Holly Hunter (she won an Oscar for “The Piano”) takes on the role of the teacher’s union president. And Ving Rhames (the “Mission: Impossible” films) is the principal entrenched in bureaucracy.
“Won’t Back Down” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. It opened on Friday with Monroe County School Superintendent Mark Porter saying a few words following a 6 p.m. cocktail reception.
Parent trigger laws typically allow parents to overhaul the structure and operations of their schools by replacing staff, converting them to charter schools, or closing the school altogether if a majority of parents sign petitions agreeing to those changes. Although California was the first, seven states – Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas, and California – now have some type of trigger law on the books, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“Advocates argue that parents should have a more active role in how their child's school is managed. They also claim that the traditional procedures for turning around low performing schools are too slow and heavily influenced by political interests, not necessarily the students’ interests,” notes NCSL. “Opponents claim that there are mechanisms already in place to intervene in low performing schools.”
“I do fight for what I believe in,” says Maggie Gyllenhaal. “And I think everyone should. I hope that this movie will inspire people to something about the educational system or whatever they think isn’t working in their country or community.”