Box office slaps Hollywood: ‘Don’t talk jive smack against teachers’

Teacher and education blogs were all atwitter — and Twitter was all ablog, I suppose you could say — about the opening this past weekend of the movie “Won’t Back Down.”

“Parent trigger” laws bubble up in discussion a lot recently — laws that allow a group of parents to petition a school district, or the state, and say that they want to take over a local school.  Conservatives and other anti-teacher groups promote these laws as a means of education reform.  Generally, in the few cases in which a school is taken over by parents, teachers and local administrators are fired, and the school operates much like a charter school.

“Won’t Back Down” professes to be “based on a true story.”  I am reminded that both “Psycho” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” also professed to be based on a true story — the same story, in fact.  I’ve written about this before — based on a true story, except not in Texas, no chainsaw, no massacre, nor was there a hotel and a shower.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is more carefully based on a true story — there is a Mississippi River; or The Bald Soprano — there are bald people, and there are sopranos.  But I digress.

The film has a cast of some great star power — Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Holly Hunter.  It was produced by the documentary group that also produced Al Gore‘s “Inconvenient Truth,” and then moved to the popular but wildly polemical “Waiting for Superman,” another hit on teachers.  They should have stopped with that one, instead of raising the ante (raising the “anti?”).

Audiences don’t like films that cast teachers as villains, it would appear.

Stephanie Simon of Reuters wrote:

(Reuters) – Education reform film “Won’t Back Down” opened Friday to terrible reviews – and high hopes from activists who expect the movie to inspire parents everywhere to demand big changes in public schools.

The drama stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a spirited mother who teams up with a passionate teacher to seize control of their failing neighborhood school, over the opposition of a self-serving teachers union.

Reviewers called it trite and dull, but education reformers on both the left and right have hailed the film as a potential game-changer that could aid their fight to weaken teachers’ unions and inject more competition into public education.

Yahoo!’s Movie Talk got to the point:

Even an Oscar-caliber leading cast couldn’t save this one. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s latest film “Won’t Back Down,” also starring Viola Davis and Holly Hunter, set the record this past weekend for the worst opening of a film that appeared in more than 2,500 theaters, making a mere $2.6 million [via Box Office Mojo].

Yes, all three of these former Oscar nominees — Hunter having won a golden statuette in 1994 for “The Piano” — now have a pretty bad blemish on their resume. But they aren’t to blame, say industry watchers, who are reacting to the film with a resounding face palm. “‘Won’t Back Down’ wore the dunce cap last weekend, mostly because its marketing was almost non-existent,” says Jeff Bock, box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations.

“Record for the worst opening?”  Ouch.

Back to the “based on a true story” issue:  We may understand why the screenwriter and director of the first Texas Chainsaw movie, Tobe Hooper took the liberties he did to add elements to the story.  He knew the original story of a disturbed man in Wisconsin who was jailed for corpse mutilation.  He knew that was the foundation for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”  How to update it, to make the story bankable from the box office?  Move it to Texas, add a chainsaw with all its terrifying whine, and add in the standard teenager murder story elements; maybe put a mask on the villain/evil beast, to make it more terrifying — there is great terror in being pursued by nameless, faceless folk as Orwell showed us.  Both Hitchcock and Hooper fully understood that the real, dull story, wasn’t something people would pay to sit through while eating grossly-overpriced popcorn.

“Won’t Back Down” suffered from sticking too close to the facts.  If you’re going to claim the antagonist is psycho, you have to give them a big butcher’s knife or a chainsaw, and a costume, in order to make really, really scary.

Teachers just are not that scary in real life.  Teachers are not the villains, in real life.

More (from various viewpoints):

8 Responses to Box office slaps Hollywood: ‘Don’t talk jive smack against teachers’

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Yeah, what Schlussel said.

    Parental involvement is the key missing ingredient from the recipe to get to great achievement in schools in low income areas, where the schools are rated as “under-performing.” Very few teachers, or union reps, would be prone to do anything other than hug a parent who really wants to get involved in her kids’ educations.


  2. David xavier says:

    Review from D.Schlussel

    “Won’t Back Down“: This is another cliche-filled, slow bore of uber-fiction in which all the inner city kids and parents are wise angels who value education, and every problem in public schools is the fault of the unions and bad teachers. In many ways, the lies in this movie remind me of “Waiting for Superman” , another cinematic fraud in which all inner city (and other) students are angel geniuses who only want to learn and whose parents are excruciatingly dedicated to their kids learning, ‘cuz, hey, that accurately portrays the kids and parents of inner city American culture, right?

    A slutty, single mom (played by the vastly over-rated, homely Maggie Gyllenhaal, the loathsome Marxist who said America “deserved and is to blame for 9/11″) with tattoos all over and a funky wardrobe is very concerned with the education of her dyslexic daughter because, after all, slutty single moms with tramp stamps on their chest are typically the ones who really care about their kids’ education, right? Puh-leeze. Gyllenhaal gets together with a teacher/parent (Viola Davis) to change a Pittsburgh school under a state law that allows them to. They face opposition of unions, administration, and parents, and even though they are dirt poor, they somehow have gazillions to spend on t-shirts, color brochures, etc. Holly Hunter–who looks like an 80-year-old anorexic and is very scary to look at (solid proof that Botox and Restylane injections don’t necessarily make one look youthful)–co-stars in this movie. There is also a cheesy, silly scene of teachers line-dancing at a bar. Oy vey. This is one of those movies billed as “inspired by actual events,” which, per usual, actually has little to do with anything that actually happened in reality.


  3. Hey Millard,
    Thanks for your perspective on this movie. As I get deeper and deeper into the Ed-Reform field I am starting to see clearer. This post gave an aha moment:

    There are are various independent stakeholders in the Ed-Reform debate:

    Parents/Students Who Want Better Education
    Private EDU companies

    They all have various agendas and are at each-others throats in a very complex, tangled web style fight. It has become a political issue, when it should be a scientific issue: How can we improve education.

    Personally I think that students should/may actually play a larger role in the future. If you are interested in my thoughts as of last week (They are evolving) check out my post on the future of education:


  4. JamesK says:

    Correction. The GOP “borrowed” 2 billion dollars, not trillion.

    Oh and by the way, Pino, the average salary for a teacher in this country ranges from $40k to $65k.

    Would you like to explain again exactly how the state of schools in this country and their finances are the fault of the teachers and the unions?

    And then you might want think about the fact that one of the chief funders of that film is a charter school CEO.

    Gee…it doesn’t occur to you that means he has a very big conflict of interest when it comes to him bashing teachers and their unions? After all..he’s after as much profit as possible going into his pockets.


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    <blockquote?The real villain is the union.

    Can you explain how it is that the teachers union is holding down into poverty people in entire Zipcodes? I’m not sure I follow your logic.

    Are you using logic, and facts?


  6. JamesK says:

    Uhhuh..the real villian is the union.

    Why, what a fantasy world you live in that you think teachers should be taken out behind the proverbial woodshed and roundly fu….beat upside the head.

    In my state where schools are facing a budget shortfall it’s the unions fault and not the fact that for the last 5 years the Republicans have “borrowed” over 2 trillion dollars in school funding so they can keep their tax cuts to the rich and conveniently haven’t paid the schools back.

    If the real villain is the union then why did Governor Ahab walker support the NFL ref’s union?

    You, Pino, live in a fantasy world in which you want to screw over actual workers so you can continue to kiss the arses of the 1% parasites.


  7. pino says:

    Teachers just are not that scary in real life. Teachers are not the villains, in real life.

    Everyone loves teachers; especially the really really good ones. The real villain is the union.

    Well, and bad teachers.


  8. JamesK says:

    Ed writes:
    Conservatives and other anti-teacher groups promote these laws as a means of education reform. Generally, in the few cases in which a school is taken over by parents, teachers and local administrators are fired, and the school operates much like a charter school.

    Ah..the new incarnation of the 20 or so dimwits in my school district that tried to get the Harry Potter books banned from the schools.


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