Parents give “Won’t Back Down” movie trailer a thumbs down

Press release * For immediate release

June 14, 2012


Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters, NYC 917-435-9329

Caroline Grannan, PAA member, San Francisco, CA, 415-412-5758

Julie Woestehoff, Parents United for Responsible Education, Chicago, 773-538-1135

Parents Give “Won’t Back Down” Movie Trailer a Thumbs-Down

Parent trigger” reality distorted to fit corporate school reform message

The trailer for “Won’t Back Down,” an upcoming film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holly Hunter and Viola Davis, shows parent power triumphing over bad teachers and claims that the film is “inspired by actual events.” But members of Parents Across America (PAA) say the film will tell a false story and is funded by right-wing forces to spread an anti-public-education message.

The movie doesn’t open until September, but the trailer is already in theaters and on the internet. It shows a mother, played by Gyllenhaal, leading parents in taking over a struggling school where teachers have failed to teach her daughter to read, punched her and locked her in a closet.

But the storyline about the parent takeover has no resemblance to reality, says New York parent activist Leonie Haimson, a PAA co-founder. “The movie is supposedly based on a process called the ‘parent trigger,’ which purports to empower parents. But actually, the ‘parent trigger’ has a track record of 100 percent failure, and has pitted parents against parents and torn apart school communities at the two schools where it has been tried,” said Haimson. She points out that “Won’t Back Down” was produced by Walden Media, owned by conservative mogul Philip Anschutz, a major donor to anti-gay, creationist and other right-wing causes. Walden Media was the co-producer of the 2010 anti-public-education pseudo-documentary “Waiting for Superman.”

The first “parent trigger” attempt took place in 2010 in Compton, Calif., according to PAA member Caroline Grannan of San Francisco, and that effort failed. “There haven’t been any other ‘parent trigger’ efforts that went even as far as the one in Compton, so there couldn’t be any other event to ‘inspire’ the film,” said Grannan. “And what really happened there was the complete opposite of the Hollywood version. For example, the trailer shows parents, led by one outraged mom, mobilizing themselves courageously to take over their school — and only much later contacting an outside organizer for extra support.

“In reality, the attempt in Compton was entirely organized by outside operators. Parent Revolution, the billionaire-funded California operation that created the ‘parent trigger’ law, looked around the state for a school to target, chose Compton’s McKinley Elementary, and pre-selected a charter school operator to take it over. Parent Revolution sent paid operatives out to go door to door in Compton with petitions. Only then did any parents at McKinley even hear about the petition drive, and when they did, hundreds turned out to a school board meeting to oppose the charter takeover.”

Grannan’s detailed comparison of the film version to real events can be found  here on the PAA web site.

“We believe that corporate school reformers are once again turning to Hollywood to sell a version of school reform that many parents reject, as they did with “Waiting for Superman” and its biased attack on public school teachers and idealization of charter schools,” said Julie Woestehoff, PAA co-founder and executive director of Chicago’s Parents United for Responsible Education.

PAA members in Florida recently helped defeat “parent trigger” legislative proposals in that state (see our report here).

Parents Across America’s rating for the “Won’t Back Down” trailer? All thumbs down!


Please also see our “Parent Trigger” position paper and “Parents Across America on the Empowerment Parents Want: The LSC Model for School Reform”


Parents Across America (PAA) is a non-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization that connects parents and activists from across the U.S. to share ideas and work together on improving our nation’s public schools. PAA is committed to bringing the voice of public school par­ents – and common sense – to local, state, and national education debates

For more information on Parents Across America, check out our website at or email us at

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