Stars Don’t Back Down from Film’s Politics

Won’t Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as a parent and teacher struggling to turn around a failing

Viola Davis (left) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Getty Images)

Won’t Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as a parent and teacher struggling to turn around a failing school, is a movie that clearly wants to say something, even if The Observer had a hard time hearing what they were saying because of chanting protestors.

The film, directed by Daniel Barnz, premiered Sunday night at the Ziegfeld and was attended not only by the cast, but by the New Yorkers for Great Public Schools Coalition, an umbrella group of parents that gathered across the street. The protestors oppose the “parent trigger” laws that inspired the events of the film, through which parents can take over a failing school and possibly turn it into a charter school. Shouting “Move on over corporate takeover,” the group protested the film’s financial backers, right-wing billionaires Philip Anschutz (of Walden Media) and Rupert Murdoch (CEO of News Corporation).

Mr. Barnz told The Observer: “The whole movie is about the benefits of protesting. There are many scenes of protesting in the film. I happen to know that what they’re protesting is different from what the movie is actually about. They’re here protesting parent trigger laws and as I explained to you this is not a parent trigger movie.” The film’s fictional law requires both parents and teachers to vote to take over the school.

“You don’t want a movie to feel like it’s an issue thing. You want it to feel like a human drama. I mean Oscar Isaac’s character, his whole narrative is about someone who’s a big union believer and is struggling with that in the course of the movie.”

The film’s stars, wearing grave political faces in addition to red carpet gowns, were ardent about education reform but wary of appearing anti-union. Ms. Gyllenhall said that she came from “the most progressive left. I wouldn’t be allowed to go home for Thanksgiving if I made an anti-union movie.”

When asked by The Observer about the film’s goals, Lance Reddick, who plays Ms. Davis’s husband, said, “I don’t know. I just know that things need to change. The other thing is I’m not really about gutting teachers unions because I’m a member of three unions and I wouldn’t be able to make a living if I wasn’t.”

Mr. Barnz, Ms. Davis, Ms. Gyllenhaal, and Rosie Perez also sat down earlier in the day at the Education Nation Summit to speak with MSNBC’s Alex Wagner. The summit showed a few of the film’s tear-jerking scenes between real-life panels discussing education reform. Stars Don’t Back Down from Film’s Politics