Viola Davis: Her Film Challenges Status Quo

The star and Won't Back Down director say the film shows education answers, not right-wing agenda.

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Barnz went on to say, “When we start getting into these educational issues it pulls focus off of what the film is fundamentally about, which is kids. The thing we’ve got to be talking about is what can we do for these kids in failing public schools right now.” Indeed — but the film is centered precisely on educational issues from the adults’ perspective, and the only children’s lives being explored are those of the two lead characters, and only to a minimal degree.

Viola Davis hopes the takeaway for audiences will be that improving schools requires a concerted effort on everyone’s part, not just teachers. “What I want people to realize is that it truly does take a village, that a good teacher is not made on their own,” she said. “They need the help of the community, the involvement of parents, the board of education and the union. It takes a culmination of forces to make [conditions] great.”

Moreover, she added, “We as people need to challenge the status quo. To not go along in life by rote, and if you want to change a system, to understand that even the most so-called ordinary members of us can tap into what’s extraordinary about us and change it.”

But changing a school in the manner portrayed in Won’t Back Down is a long and arduous undertaking that overworked teachers and working-class and low-income parents rarely have the time or energy to accomplish. Furthermore, it’s legal in only seven states, a fact never raised in the movie.

And according to education reporter Dana Goldstein in a recent article in the Nation: “It could be years before any school fully completes the parent trigger process; the furthest along is Desert Trails Elementary, a predominantly Latino school in Adelanto, California. School choice activists there have been opposed by teachers unions and have received support from Parent Revolution, a nonprofit funded by Walden Media and the Gates and Wasserman foundations.”

While director Barnz’s claims that Won’t Back Down is simply a vehicle to raise the issue of failing urban schools, it appears that Walden Media continues its anti-union agenda.

Julia Chance is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist and the author of Sisterfriends: Portraits of Sisterly Love. Follow her on Twitter.