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'Won't Back Down' screened in Philadelphia Wednesday night

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    Photo: Kait Privitera, for Mayor's Office




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.


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