Won’t Back Down Is Great. Except It Never Happened

I have a thing for cheesy based-on-a-true-story Hollywood movies that push agendas of change through whimsical montages and brave woman confronting the odds. I could watch Freedom Writers on repeat all day long, simultaneously channeling their determination and googling updates on the real story. It’s not that the movies are usually that good or the acting that powerful, but something about one woman vs the entire world stories really inspire me.

So when I first saw trailers for Won’t Back Down starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, I got totally psyched up about the movie. I immediately got my computer out so I could look up the real story and find out what actual events inspired someone to turn this story into a movie. I even prepped my tissue box for all the tears that would soon be streaming down my face.

But rather than find anything that hinted at this movie being based on any real events, I found article after article condemning it as anti-union propaganda being funded by conservatives who are pushing for charter schools. And to add insult to conservative-backed injury, it’s not based on any kind of true story.

It’s based on a law called the parent-trigger law. A law most simply explained in this Huffington Post article:

The law allows public-school parents who gather signatures from a majority of their peers to transform a school into a charter. They can also opt to remove a consistently failing school’s staff or close the school entirely.

That’s the true story. Right there. Someone saw that law and said to themselves, “let’s create a story around that law! And because it’s based on a real law, we can say that it’s inspired by actual events.” Which basically means any movie that involves any law could be inspired by true events. Such as a movie about a murderer who goes on trial because the law says murder is illegal. Since that’s a real law, then it’s basically a true story.

That means there is no single mom who’s battling a school district for a teacher who cares about her daughter’s dyslexia. Nor is there a  jaded teacher who comes alive with the idea of the takeover and completely changes her life as she fights against the bureaucracy. It’s all made up.

And it’s not just anyone who saw that law and immediately created a fantasy of epic proportions about a wild-eyed woman trying to do right by her daughter, it’s funded by Philip Anschutz, owner of the anti-union Walden Media. That’s the same man who funded the controversial education documentary Waiting for Superman. Both movies claim that public schools are the enemy and we’ve got to get all the kids into charter schools.

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    • Tryin to figure it all out

      Is this how Neighborhood Associations got started? Parents taking control of a school just sounds like a bunch of egos trying to say their way is best. The parents should have just started homeschooling their kids if they thought the school was underperforming.

      As for Hollywood saying a movie is “based on actual events” or whatever. All that’s just marketing. Good for you for researching it and discovering what the real FACTS are in this case.

      • Jenni

        Well, I don’t think homeschooling’s realistic because so many parents HAVE to work during the day. But nor is it realistic for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character to work two-fulltime jobs, raise her kid as a single mom and takeover a school. Not matter how many inspirational songs they play.

      • http://twilightirruption.blogspot.com/ abbeysbooks

        I agree. I liked Dangerous Minds and that one Hillary Swank was in. Both good and realistic. But it takes that kind of teacher in that kind of school to do that. Not many of them.

    • lillicat

      Jenni: Great article. This subject is very familiar to me, and I can relate to both sides. I don’t know if it’s true but it seems that the South (in general) has more Charter Schools. (I am going to try very hard not to get diarrhea of the mouth so bear with me.) There are many who get very passionate about some of the things I’m going to say, so I’m apologizing beforehand. There are many schools who are still under or just coming off a federal court order policed by the NAACP over 50 years ago that requires all schools to provide equal learning environments for all students. This is good and just. The problem is any (A.) any changes have to go through the courts and be approved by the NAACP. Think of what that entails. I am listing only a few points because an entire essay could be written on this alone. 1. Large costs for city/county gov’t that can barely pay their police and fire departments. 2.. Equal race distribution at all the schools requires that some students in one school district be bused far distances from home to another district requiring them to catch the school bus as early as 6 AM to be at school at 8 AM. Starting at first grade!!!! Doing away with neighborhood schools has reduced the amount of parental involvement because many parents are working, feel disconnected because their child has to drive by the school in their neighborhood to one 20 mi. away, or just unable to be involved for other reasons. 3. The elected School Boards seem to have a majority of egotistical people who want to push their own agendas and argue over trivial points rather than an action plan that will help the kids learn and grow into responsible, caring adults. 4. Tighter budgets ensue partially caused by (a) decreased amount of money the schools have to spend on “learning tools”, requiring parents and teachers to raise money or pay themselves for what we consider the basics. (b) Some of the Middle and most of the High Schools have become dangerous. 5. Not all states recognize certain learning disabilities, and provide no assistance for the child or parents to keep the child in the public system.
      This brings us to the results of the above: Private Schools for those who can afford it, Charter Schools, and/or Home Schooling. I live in an average sized town of around 85,000 people within the city limits. We do not have a Municipality-type government. However, we have no less than 10 listed Private Schools in the phone directory. That doesn’t count all of the church affiliated private schools. The average cost to send a child to a private school is around 4-5 K annually per child, not including extra activities, ie: sports, fine arts, drama, band, cheering–etc., food and transportation. There are many people who can’t afford these costs, as we all know; and Home Schooling has strict guidelines that many parents are not qualified or are unable to meet. This is where a Charter School might be useful. If placed in an area where trending has shown students are “falling through the cracks”, it could be a good investment. It would allow for more parental involvement, smaller classes or more 1 on 1 involvement for children with special needs, have grants to help with supplies and sources that the parents/teachers cannot afford.. I am stopping here- so sorry for the long post. I will share this with my teacher friends and daughter-in-law ( a wonderful teacher). They will correct me, possibly jack-slap me and explain any point I’ve left vague. I am not a teacher, just a state university educated wife,mother,business owner, tax payer, and Ya Ya to my 3 adorable grand-daughters and 2 Siamese cats. These are my observations after sending 3 sons through the public and private school system.

      • Jenni

        I totally agree with what you’re saying. As someone from a state that’s #47 for education in the country, I grew up with this issue. From what I’ve read about parent-trigger laws, people are just questioning if that’s the right solution. Can parents run a school well? If not, can they hire the right private company to run it? I think the bigger issue is education in this country. I know that’s a loaded statement, but I think (as so many people do) our entire public school system has to be overhauled.

        I just wouldn’t trust it in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s hands. Viola Davis, maybe.

      • http://twilightirruption.blogspot.com/ abbeysbooks

        Jonathan Kozol gave the prescription back in the 70′s. Miquon started that way as did The School in Rose Valley in Swarthmore. Summerhill. Ivan Illyich. the prescriptions and movels are there, they just don’t want to follow them. Why? Rad foucault: Disciplin and Punish. Schools are institutions whose primary purpose is to regulate and enforce normality in a confined setting architecturally structured to attain those ends.

      • lillicat

        Here in my town, I can tell you that there would be very few parents that could run a Charter School. They could very well be on the advisory board. A mentor approach could work, using retired teachers and school administration people; but the rub is that most are worn out from fighting the system for years. The answer could be private corporations, but strict oversight would have to occur with the grant money, or we could end up as what happened with the private corp. running the penal systems, and libraries.

      • http://twilightirruption.blogspot.com/ abbeysbooks

        I really like your factual analysis. Since I am obsessed with this subject I’m not going to go there.

      • lillicat

        Thanks. I am waiting for the phone to start ringing.

    • http://profiles.google.com/suzcc88 Suzanne McMillen-Fallon

      Thanks for your research here, Jenni Maier. It’s a good article, well-written, and very, very informative insight into the “based on true story” category/genres. In this particular case, speaking of the movie, Won’t Back Down, starring Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Holly Hunter, it’s always great to learn the story behind the story. What brought the movie to light? You say it like it is, simple, and straight-forward for everyone to understand the storyline’s plausibility for truth.

      Suzanne McMillen-Fallon, Author 2012
      “There’s one thing I know–God exists.”
      http://www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/Mommy’sWritings.html (currently not active)
      The Mommy Writings Series
      Mommy, would you like a sandwich?Book

    • Ms.V

      Thank you so much for this article. I live in a neighboring city to Adelanto. I am also a teacher who has worked in both a regular (unionized) public school and a charter school in the area, so I don’t have an agenda either way, but am always interested in topics and stories related to education. I really think the timing of this “based on actual events” movie is interesting, considering that the legal battle between the district and parent group (backed by a non-profit company) isn’t actually over yet. The entire takeover has been full of controversy that continues to this point. Yes, the real school definitely had (or rather still has) problems, but this movie seems more based on the idea than on the events actually taking place. Once I heard about the movie, I was wondering if anyone would point out the inaccuracy of the “based on actual events” tagline or that it is just a propaganda piece. You are the first that I have seen, so thanks.

    • br

      The school districts, teachers’ unions, and teachers are not working for the btterment of students or for the society. How long will we cotinue to discuss a broken system that have every intention to keep disparity alive and well though public and private education. There are so many policies put in place to create obstables for minorities of a darker skin, brown skin and poor peoples. The inadequately taught is now raising children and we continue to wonder what is wrong with parents, after five generations of miseducation. When society have figured out they have crippled a particular ethnic group now, less favor the brown ethnic group because they are not the victim of our slavery. Provision has been made based on the AYP by 2014 or 2016 that AfricanAmericans must be 79 percent, Hispanics must be 87percent, and Causcasians be97percent academically proficient. Statistically, the numbers can be manipulated to reflect anything the people in power wants it to. Human beings are not designed for their knowledge to be limited so another can benefit. What comes to mind is that there is profit in failure. Explain why there are 88 percent teachers are females and they are Cascasians? This does not apply to all teachers, however, with the current cadre of teachers African American students are not being taught by individuals who are naturally detached from them. We continue to make up reasons why African American students can not learn. Actually, they are not being taught because it is job security.Recently, the legislative changed where schools have to keep high schools students in their cohort and progressing towards graduation. Now, the education institution is pushing them out before high school so that they are not counted in the graduation cohort.This would be an outrage if cascasians or Asians, and some Hispanics were treated with such disdain processes. Here is another tragedy African American young children have experienced severe failure in Prek-elementary, however, it is about to get worse because some teachers will take advantage of retaining children opposed to teachng them. For the teachers who have compassion and heart for children speak out against intentional disparities in education.

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