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There is no Latin American release date yet for Won’t Back Down.
Monday, October 8, 2012

Won’t Back Down Message Needed in Latin America

The message in Won’t Back Down is desperately needed in Latin America.




“Education Reform Gets a Hollywood Boost” is how Bruno Manno, a former US Assistant Secretary of Education, described the move Won’t Back Down in the Wall Street Journal several days ago. The movie, which centers on two mothers working to save their children’s inner city school,  is generating debate across the country – even more so in the context of the recent dispute between Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his city’s teachers unions.


The Walden Media company, which produces films, books, documentaries, and other educational materials with the goal of promoting debate, seems well positioned to make a mark, as they did with the popular Waiting for Superman. Won’t Back Down opened to $2.7 million in sales its first weekend, placing it the top ten at the box office.


The movie portrays two women, a mother at Adams Elementary in Pittsburgh and a teacher from the same school, that tire of its poor performance and who decide to take action. The duo set out to get more involved in the school’s management, taking advantage of new legislation known as the “parent-trigger.” Passed in several states, the trigger gives parents the ability to reform failing schools, either by directly taking over their management, or by converting them into charter schools. The film dramatizes the conflict between the local teachers’ union, the politicians, and the teachers that resist change despite mounting evidence that the students are being left behind. While comparisons to Waiting for Superman are inevitable, this film delivers the message in an emotionally powerful drama form, rather than through a documentary.


Walden Media proved that film – both documentaries and drama – can make a difference in promoting debate and can even help trigger reform in the education system. In Latin America there are some examples of this as well. For instance, De Panzazo (Barely Passing), produced by the pro-reform group Mexicanos Primero, has been distributed to every movie theater in Mexico. More recently, Argentine director Germán Doin’s La Educacion Prohibida has been seen by over 4 million people. Walden took successful advocacy a step further by putting together a website ( to give people the tools to get involved, spread the word, and support the cause.


The statistics about the failures of the US education system pile up almost daily in our policy debates, government reports, and mainstream media outlets, but Won’t Back Down shows the emotional, individual side of these failures instead. It shows that this is not, at heart, a problem about education officials, union leaders, and competing budget priorities. It is, instead, a real problem for the thousands of parents that realize that their children’s schools are doing nothing about the fact that they are not getting a good education and won’t have the tools to find a good job.


This message is crystal clear, and successful in presenting this challenge as the urgent crisis it is. For mother Jamie Fitzpatrick, the fact that her daughter is failing to learn is a pressing emergency, the effects are real, and change can’t wait. Many argue that new reforms are risky, that the status quo is the best that distressed schools can provide in a context of poverty and crime. For others, the political climate is not ripe for controversial efforts. But for those children and their parents these excuses for apathy are not acceptable. In Jamie’s exasperated words during one scene, “I can’t wait for ten thousand studies about how being poor affects education – I can tell you being poor sucks and my kid can’t read!”  

As Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister and newly appointed United Nations special envoy for global education, puts it, “the gulf between our ideals and children’s expediencies is what makes the cause of educational opportunity the civil rights issue of our generation.” This is as true in Latin America as it is in the United States – and while there is no Latin American release date yet, Won’t Back Down’s message is desperately needed in the region as well. It’s a must see for anyone concerned about the future of our children’s education.

Gabriel Sanchez Zinny is managing partner at Blue Star Strategies. He wrote this column for Latinvex.

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