Won’t Back Down

Won’t Back Down


Norma Rae was about a feisty union organiser fighting for basic workers’ rights, All the President’s Men was about two fearless newspaper reporters bringing down a corrupt president, and Erin Brockovich was about a heroic ordinary woman battling corporate malfeasance.

Won’t Back Down, while perhaps not quite in the same league as the aforementioned touchstones of cinema, is a drama about the disaster that is today’s American public education system. It’s not a glamorous subject but an important one nonetheless.

The film pins educational malaise on a great many diverse causes, from students mired in videogames to bad teachers to an overly stodgy curriculum to good teachers who have sunk, over the years, into a kind of grinding hopelessness that just about anyone in their position might share.

It’s about the battlers, the parents of children who are not given opportunities because of the underfunded system.

Starring are Maggie Gyllenhaal as a disgruntled financially-strapped single mother and Viola Davis as a worn-down veteran teacher, who is trying to lift herself out of the apathy she feels for the system.

In the process they take on bureaucracy. The film attracted a lot of negative publicity about its portrayal of the teachers’ union. Conversely, rather than demonise any particular group, the film seems to highlight that the crisis is really due to a lack of change.

And Won’t Back Down says that, whatever your feelings about the subject, lack of change cannot be the answer to any public-education crisis.

The film is nothing if not a passionate treatise on the need for transforming children’s education in an ever-changing world and, in the process, makes genuine drama out of some seemingly insurmountable issues.

The performances are uniformly excellent and it’s a shame that these sorts of issues-based films tend not to attract very large audiences. It is recommended viewing though if you are passionate about the education of children, whichever continent we live in.

Adrian Drayton


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