By Benjamin Herold
for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner
Mayor Nutter and Pennsylvania State Sen. Anthony WIlliams joined more than a hundred Philadelphians on Wednesday night for a special advance screening of Won’t Back Down, a new movie about education reform that is provoking sharp criticism from teachers' unions.
In the film, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis play a pair of Pittsburgh moms who join forces to fix their children's failing school. Davis' character is also a teacher at the school.
Won’t Back Down is both a major motion picture and a polished example of contemporary issue advocacy. Wednesday’s screening was hosted by StudentsFirst, a California-based nonprofit group that has been pushing states to adopt so-called “parent trigger” laws. The laws generally allow parents to petition for a total overhaul of their kids’ schools, if they can get a majority to sign on.
Director Daniel Barnz said his goal was to provoke discussion and action.
"What the film wants to focus on, and what I think many people in the education reform want to focus on, are the kids," Barnz said.
But the movie’s harsh depiction of a teachers' union didn't sit well with some, including Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan. He was particularly put off by a scene in which teachers say they can’t put in extra hours because of union work rules.
“This is a work of fiction,” Jordan said. “Teachers in Philadelphia stay after school for hours.”
Mayor Nutter generally tried to strike a conciliatory tone, emphasizing the need for stakeholders from across the spectrum to work together.
Sen. Williams moderated the discussion. He unsuccessfully tried to get the Pennsylvania legislature to enact a parent trigger law last year. He said another version of the bill is "teed up" for consideration later in the fall.
“Won’t Back Down” opens in theaters on Sept. 28.