Can Movies Generate Conservative Social Change? 'Won’t Back Down' Will Try
Liberals have whales and women to save, but conservatives aren’t known for our effective emotional arguments. This trailer, however, for an education reform drama set to open nearly everywhere Friday almost makes me cry:
Now it’s well known that the entertainment industry is deeply liberal. And, if Tim Groseclose’s research on the news media applies to entertainment, as seems entirely likely, that has helped pull America left over the years.
Is there now a cross-current?
Won’t Back Down (WBD) is the newest from Walden Media, which is backed by the well-known but elusive Philip Anschutz, who also backs the Washington Examiner and Weekly Standard. Walden also produced the 2010 education reform documentary Waiting for Superman, 2006’s Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce, and the Chronicles of Narnia films.
But Superman was a documentary, and few people typically see those. Narnia and related films have positive messages, but none political. WBD is the first political story out from Walden, and that makes it more interesting to me (beyond my day job in ed policy).
Today, Walden producer Chip Flaherty noted the movie’s singularity among Walden’s lineup, placing WBD in a long tradition of movies about normal folks accidentally becoming heroes, like Erin Brockovich, Rocky, and It’s a Wonderful Life.
“For once it’s not William Wilberforce, who is a hero to the movement, but it’s the common person,” he said. “That’s the best story because it’s a celebration of free will and the importance of each individual, not only to their family, but in the community.”
WBD has been viciously protested and attacked, largely by unions representing the education establishment even before its release (though, ironically, its stars are unionized and call themselves “progressive left”), for portraying schools as desperately broken. The single mom who just wants her third grader to read is stymied at every turn by bureaucracy that clogs nearly every real-life school district. It's impossible to fire poor teachers and school board meetings are both inaccessible and impotent.
The movie is striking, energizing, and a pitch-perfect rage against the bureaucrat machine. But I wonder two things. First, because it portrays a failing school, will large numbers of parents and community members, who persistently and in large majorities rate local schools much higher than public schools in general (though that’s logically impossible), feel little impetus despite the movie-makers’ hopes of providing an inflection point? Second, if people do finally understand the system is broken, how likely are they to demand more answers from government rather than themselves?