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Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal know school reform film will hit home in Chicago

ViolDavis Maggie Gyllenhaal 'Won't Back Down'

Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Won't Back Down"

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Updated: October 25, 2012 6:17AM

NEW YORK — “I couldn’t believe how this is a case of life imitating art,” said director Daniel Barnz, who co-wrote the script for his new film “Won’t Back Down.”

During interviews Saturday in New York, Barnz — plus the film’s stars, Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal — recognized the similarities their movie shares with the recently settled Chicago teachers strike.

The film (opening Friday) focuses on a seemingly impossible crusade by a single mom (Gyllenhaal) and dedicated teacher (Davis) to overcome both union and school board bureaucracies to save a failing inner-city school. As was the case in Chicago, a key issue in “Won’t Back Down” is the ability of a strong union contract to not only protect good teachers from being fired, but also make it difficult for poor or ineffective teachers to lose their jobs.

Barnz, Gyllenhaal and Davis all stressed they are pro-union but hope people see “Won’t Back Down” as a film about seemingly powerless individuals working to improve schools for the children’s sake. National union leaders have objected to its depiction of their organizations.

“I didn’t expect any of the discourse and friction that happened as a result of this movie coming out,” said Davis.

“I’m pro-education and pro-child,” she said, adding that “teachers alone can’t turn around failing schools. It absolutely takes the support of the community, parents, unions and the board of education. Oftentimes, I think way too much pressure is put on teachers to solve all the problems of the schools.”

Gyllenhaal, stressing that “I’m sure I’m much less informed than many, many other people,” said that working on “Won’t Back Down” did lead her “to learn as much as I could about education policy.”

On top of that, the actress pointed out that “we live in a democracy. You can’t function in a democracy without an educated electorate. Otherwise, what tools are you using to choose your leaders?”

A mother herself, Gyllenhaal hopes “this movie will inspire parents to get involved as much as they possibly can in their children’s schools. The nice thing about this film is that it shows parents and teachers coming together. That’s key.”

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