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Life Arts

A Must-Watch Movie for Activists, Organizers and People Who Want To Make Change Happen

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View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to H4 9/19/14

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Poster for Won't Back Down
(image by 20th Century Fox)

Won't Back Down is a 2012 movie. I just watched it for the second time. It gets better each time.

The movie tells the story of a mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal) whose child is in a school that's been rated with an "F" for almost 20 years. She fights to allow the parents and teachers to take the school over from the corrupt principal and jaded, bad teachers mired there with tenure. The story is about the effort of the mother and one caring teacher (Viola Davis) who must persuade half the teachers and half the parents and then the school board.

This isn't perfect. Like most movies, it makes the villains really bad. But it demonstrates so many things that protesters too often ignore-- the face to face work, the efforts by the opposition to sabotage, using lies, the role of greed of fear and fear-making. The critics of this film cannot deny that there are people out there who exemplify the archetypally evil people in this movie. The venal teacher, the corrupt principal, the union leader who has lost his soul and his sight of what is right.

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Wikipedia casts some light on some important aspects of the film:
The film is loosely based on the events surrounding the use of the parent trigger law in Sunland-Tujunga, Los Angeles, California in 2010, where several groups of parents attempted to take over several failing public schools. The Parent Trigger law, which was passed in California and other states in 2010, allowed parents to enforce administrative overhaul and overrule administrators in under-performing public schools if petitioned. If successful, petitions allow parents to direct changes such as dismissal of staff and potential conversion of a school to a charter school.
That said, the movie has a very different history, tying it to right wing propaganda. It was produced by the same film studio, Walden Media, which produced another anti-union movie, Waiting for Superman. Further, pro-school privatization activist Michelle Rhee presented the movie, pre-release at events near the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions.

The film did not fare very well at the box office, bringing in under $6 million, while it cost reportedly more than $25 million to create.

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Wikipedia also reports:
Private foundations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have contributed more than $2 million for a publicity campaign for the film. Television ads, bookmarks, websites and private screenings a six-month cross-country tour will promote the film. Promoters have scheduled private screenings in states from New York to Georgia and Utah, to promote the movie and its parent trigger message.
Some critics have contended that the film is an ideological vehicle of conservative activist Philip Anschutz and that the film is slanted to promote the parent trigger movement.
These factors are important considerations in watching this movie. Still, even though the intentions of the movie makers may be anti-union, the movie demonstrates the way activism and community organizing is done.

I've seen too many activists who sit at home, attend meetings with other activists or go to demonstrations with other activists. This movie shows some very different approaches, starting with a very motivated involved victim of the system-- the mother-- and another victim of the system-- a teacher whose son is being failed by the system. It shows them going door to door, being rejected by the people who they are trying to help, then persevering, working harder, at reaching out, at coming up with new messages, new ideas.

Watch this movie as a lesson, an example of how change happens.

The acting in this movie is extraordinary. One way I measure a movie is by how much it touches my heart and this one gave me chills again and again. it's also great to see a movie where the main characters are all women. This is a movie that is essential viewing. Don't miss it.


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Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind. Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives one person at a time was too slow, he founded which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big) to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project.

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