MOVIE REVIEW: “Won’t Back Down” Inspiring and Worth Watching

 

By Johnny Flores, Jr.
Coachella Unincorporated

 

Every child should have the right to great education, as well as the opportunity to pursue higher education. Knowing that students do not have these these opportunities really saddens me, especially in my own community.

In the Eastern Coachella Valley, where I have lived my entire life, many students are facing some of the same issues depicted in the movie, ”Won’t Back Down.”

This movie shed light on the problems that schools are facing these days: overcrowded classrooms, curriculum cutbacks, loss of funding, and students performing well below grade level being passed into the next grade.

A child’s education begins in elementary school, is strengthened in middle school, and is put to the test in high school. Yet it is said in the movie that one in four students will not graduate from high school. The kids in my neighborhood may possibly never graduate high school or move onto college.

Instead they will be forced to find a minimum wage job in a difficult economy or, worse yet, be unemployed. This should not happen to a young person regardless of ethnicity, wealth, or where they live.

“Won’t Back Down” is the story of two mothers, a teacher and a parent, portrayed by Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal respectively, who set out to transform the elementary school that both their children attend. Seeing how two mothers will stop at nothing to make sure their children have the right to a good education really stood out to me.

The plot of the movie, directed by Daniel Barnz, is based on the attempted reform of Desert Trails Elementary in the Adelanto Elementary School District using California’s parent trigger law. This law gives parents the right to demand and implement real change at low-performing schools. Under this law, parents can do so if they are able to gather 51 percent of parent signatures. This law, passed in 2010, allows dramatic changes such as the firing of teachers, ousting of the principal, and the conversion of the school into a charter institution.

I don’t believe this film is entirely about promoting the charter school movement, as some critics have said, but simply that parents have the power to implement change in our schools.

The idea of change in our local schools is a great thing, especially considering the drop out rate in Coachella Valley Unified School District. According to the State of California Department of Education, 28.5% do not graduate from district high schools.

As demonstrated in “Won’t Back Down,” parents must play a major role in the success of their schools and their children. Unfortunately, I don’t see much parent involvement in the Eastern Coachella Valley. I believe this is due, in large part, to the fact that parents in this area primarily speak Spanish. They often don’t understand what their children are learning or the educational system — let alone how to transform their schools as the mothers in this movie did.

However, just because parents are uninformed and uninvolved does not mean their children do not deserve a shot at a great education.

I hope this movie serves as an example to let parents know the options they have in improving their children’s education. I hope that the parents in my community, despite cultural and language barriers, also get informed. This does not necessarily mean parents should invoke the California Trigger Law, but that they learn that their participation is critical and can help make their child – and the school — successful.

Although my personal experience has not been like that, I was able to connect with all everyone in the movie. I especially empathized with Jamie Fitzpatrick, played by Gyllenhaal, and became deeply invested in her character. She truly is an example for parents everywhere. She is a single mother with a dyslexic daughter, working two jobs to make ends meet – all the while trying to make the most of her life and improve her daughter’s life.

Overall, “Won’t Back Down” is great drama that is definitely worth watching. I left the theater feeling inspired and knowing change is possible, with this powerful line from the movie playing in my head: ”What are you going to do with your one and only life?”

I would love to see this type of change at all of our under-performing schools. Wouldn’t it be great if every parent decided to participate, and maybe even transform, their child’s one and only education?

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