I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Movie Stars ARE Fair Game

The stars of the anti-union propaganda film Won't Back Down are backpedaling like crazy:
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?” [emphasis mine]
So why is Gyllenhaal's character converting her public school to a charter, which will inevitably serve only some of the kids in that community? Are only some children allowed to get a quality education, and participate in democracy?

Some more spin:

Viola Davis, who has claimed education as an issue close to her heart, told The Today Show in an interview yesterday, “I welcome protest. I welcome discourse. I think discourse is a good thing. I think it spearheads change.”
“And you know what?” she said. “In this movie, the teacher at the end of the day is the hero. They save the day.”
Later on the show, Gyllenhaal told Kathie Lee and Hoda that the protesters at the premiere were a “surprise” to her.
“I am a total union supporter,” Gyllenhaal said. “You can absolutely support unions fundamentally with your mind and your heart and you can also find some faults within them. If we don’t criticize even the things we believe in most, then they’ll stop serving us.”
So these stars are saying all they want to do is start a conversation. I have some news for them: many of us have been having a conversation for some time. Making a movie based on false pretenses was not necessary for us to have a serious talk about our schools. You could have joined this discussion any time you wanted without riding in on a wave of propaganda.

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis and Rosie Perez may be fine actors, but they are also movie stars. And movie studios hire movie stars not just to act in their movies; studios also hire stars to promote their movies. All these stars have a coterie of people around them whose job is to promote their brands as celebrities, and not just their work as actors.

Rosie Perez has been around Hollywood long enough to know that when she signs on to a film like Won't Back Down, she'll be going around to a bunch of media outlets to promote the project. She knows that a script like this will require her to go on TV and blithely proclaim that, "We have the worst education system, K through 12," as part of her job as a salesperson for the film.

Well, if she's going to make a statement like that - completely out of context and with no acknowledgement of the relationship between poverty and achievement - and there's pushback, she has no one to blame but herself. If Gyllenhaal's fans find her hypocrisy on unions to be troubling, she has no one to blame but herself. If Davis didn't think things through enough to see that she was going to anger teachers with this film's cartoonish portrayal of their unions, she has no one to blame but herself.

These aren't struggling actors looking for their big break; these are established stars who should know how their industry works. If they are going to use their celebrity to make statements about public education and teachers unions, they ought to be held responsible for their proclamations.

When Matt Damon stood up for teachers last year, he caught a load of crap for it - and he wasn't even promoting a film. But he didn't whine when a reporter from Reason tried to debate him (and failed). Damon understands that if he is going to use his celebrity status to address policy issues, he had better be prepared to back up his claims (of course, it helps if you have your mom, a nationally recognized expert on education, next to you).

So I have very little patience for the whining of the stars of Won't Back Down. If you didn't know what you were getting into, you should have. And if people have less respect for you because your critics have organized a response to you...

Welcome to the world of teaching.


darciecima said...

As someone who was AT the protest, I can tell you not one of those stars came across the street to ask why we were protesting or to hear what we had to say. How hard would it have been to cross the Manhattan street and ask why we were there?

Most incredible to me is that the writer/director of the film is saying that we didn't understand what we were protesting, that his film isn't about parent trigger legislation.


(Try not to let your head explode when you watch the vapid comments of the stars!)


After the premiere the woman behind me in line for the ladies room said to her friend, "I wish there had been a 'where are they now' part at the end of the movie!" Being the bigmouth that I am I couldn't help but whip around and inform this poor soul that this was NOT a true story, that those were not real people, and that this HAS NOT happened anywhere in the country.

To which the confused movie-goer replied, "but it says it is based on actual events."

My reply?

"Yeah, they lied."

be careful said...

Maggie, Viola and Rosie...you have been duped and I know many, many, many teachers and their families that will NOT spend a penny to view your propaganda trash. I don't think we will be seeing you at the Oscars any time soon either.

You come off as ignorant and clueless and now you are back peddling.....who is writing your talking points for you, by the way?

Nancy Flanagan said...

Great blog, JJ--and your point about stars promoting their movies is well taken. We've both seen stars on the talk show circuit rushing through the obligatory "get" to talk about something, anything, other than the stinker movie they're supposed to be advertising. They do know they're supposed to endorse and peddle the product once they sign on.

Actors make crappy movies all the time--sometimes not knowing that the film will end up being controversial garbage. I do believe Davis and Gyllenhaal are "surprised" at being accused of anti-unionism by starring in this film. Remember that TFA and Michelle Rhee are darlings of the limousine liberal set--there are lots of leftish folks who thought "Waiting for Superman" was brilliant. They've drunk the kool-aid.

Maybe this is a teachable moment, a place where dialogue instead of screaming accusations moves the needle?

We should be going after the funders, scriptwriters, producers. Those who titled the move "based on actual event." You know--those who designed this ugly lie, rather than those who play liars on the screen.

James Morris said...

Scabs are scabs.

Carl A. said...

The ironic thing about it is they are all members of SAG, The Screen Actors Guild, a UNION!