Saturday, October 6, 2012

Won't Back Down: The Worst Propaganda Ever?

So the other day I jokingly posted on facebook that I was planning on sneaking in to a screening of Won't Back Down.  A couple education activist friends saw the post and offered to come along.

Shortly thereafter, I received a text from our good friends over at Democrats for Education Reform announcing more FREE screenings of the movie put on by Parent Revolution.  Even better!  So I immediately signed up and received an email saying someone would be in contact.  Well, no one was in contact.  I assume DFER purposely did not post the time or the place of the showings on purpose in order to screen people like me from attending.  (I know I'm already on Stand for Children's hitlist, so being on DFER's is not a surprise.)

OK, back to plan A.

Obviously, we needed drinks before the showing, you know...for morale.

So perhaps we were a little tipsy when we finally arrived at the theater last night.  As planned, I bought us three tickets for another movie. (We were not about to put a dime into the WBD movie coffers. I believe Taken 2 got our money. I like Liam Neeson. He's tall.)  And as we walked into the "wrong theater", we were to surprised to see a completely empty room.  So we immediately began taking pictures, giggling, and having a grand ol' time.

But then a young movie attendant came in and asked to "check our tickets" saying we must be in the wrong theater since that showing had sold no seats.  Crap.  He went to get the manager and we played dumb saying we had purchased the wrong tickets accidentally.  Looking back, I realize I could have just been honest and let them know what we were up to.  A missed opportunity...

But they let us stay.  So, I finally got to see the movie causing such a stir.

Wow, what a bad movie.

I mean, not even talking about the propaganda side of things, the movie was just poorly made.  Terrible dialogue, no character development, predictable, and boring as hell.  One of my movie sneaker-er friends left half-way through.

But of course, the propaganda was part of the problem.  The dialogue was taken straight out of an EdReformers playbook.  It had the "bad" teacher whom you can't get rid of because she's "tenurized".  (Making the parent character mispronounce the word the "tenure" makes it more authentic, get it?)  Teachers complaining about that same teacher saying she gets the "highest salary and has the worse performance."  (What a beautiful setup for a lead in to MERIT PAY!)   The charter school lottery-where people actually care about kids (with only 3 slots for the 6.7 million applicants, or something like that...I think they just superimposed Maggie Gyllehaal with crazy eyes into a Waiting for Superman scene. )  And the Teach for America guy as the only good, enthusiast teacher in the school, who they were very careful to show wasn't "anti-labor" and kept repeating "I just want to teach."  (By the way, since when is it ok for teachers to date parents?) 

But let's get serious for a second here.  There was one piece I haven't heard as much about in the critiques of the movie.  The issue of race and school closings/turnarounds.  Adams Elementary seemed to be a perfectly integrated (roughly 33/33/33 racial breakdown of White/Black/Latino) school.  Here in Chicago segregation is the norm, so it was interesting to see the moviemakers be so careful to show large numbers of white parents at the pro-charter rallies and meetings.  The truth is, in reality, the schools being targeted for turnaround or charterization are overwhelmingly schools with intense racial segregation and isolation.  They are the schools which have been historically disinvested in due to racism, redlining, and savage inequalities in the system.

I imagine the racial make-up of the population at the school was very intentional on the part of the movie-makers.  The idea that a "failing school" has nothing to do with racism or purposeful disinvestment, but is the result solely of poor teaching, tenure, and union contracts is the main message being sold here.   The choice to pick a white single mother and a white teacher to be the "bad teacher" is intended to draw a curtain over the truth that firings have disproportionately affected older African-America women and that the populations being given the worst educational opportunity are in segregated Black and Latino neighborhoods. 

At the end of the day, this movie was about propaganda, albeit really poorly-made propaganda.  It was about scaring people into believing that what ails our schools is completely removed from any conversation about equity or race. 

While I had a good time laughing with other people who "get it" and enjoying the fact that the movie is an embarrassing empty-theater-flop at the box office, I do worry that the intended audience of the movie is not the community at large, but rather all the politicians, policy-makers, and edreform sympathizers who are being shown the film in private screenings.

Whatever, it was a good laugh.  And I think the sequel is going to be a whole lot more enjoyable!


  1. Tenurized? Really? It oozes authenticity.

  2. I saw it in Pittsburgh w/ a panel discussion afterward w/ the superintendent, the union leader, a walden media rep and the director of the non-profit eduWatchdog. The panel was just about as disappointing as the movie, but at least the leader of the eduWatchdog (A+ Schools) said they don't endorse that kind of "solution." I didn't even bother to post my perspective because I'd be saying the same thing as everyone else. But I think this blog should be added to your blog list