After an advanced screening of Won’t Back Down at the Fox Screening Room this past Sunday, I was LUCKY to have the rare opportunity to interview many of the talented ensemble from the powerful film in an intimate round-table setting at The Ritz Carlton along with four other bloggers.
I must stress that what happens in the film is the result of hard work, determination and not taking no for an answer. It is certainly not about LUCK. Quite the contrary. The characters are in a very unlucky situation and will do anything to create a change for their children in order to provide them with a better life.
Brief plot synopsis: Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis play two determined mothers, one a teacher, who will stop at nothing to transform their children’s failing inner city school. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, they risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children.
During our half hour conversation with the filmmaker Daniel Barnz, along with cast members Viola Davis, Rosie Perez, Oscar Isaac and Maggie Gyllenhaal, we discussed how moms are naturally advocates for their children.
Watching Won’t Back Down now as a mom with a son who just entered a city preschool made it a very different experience than if I had seen it perhaps four or more years ago before having my child. I was curious how much Maggie Gyllenhaal thought about her own daughter Ramona who is a first grade student as she was portraying Jamie and here’s her reply:
“I think what happens when you become a mom or a parent is, without even meaning to, the whole spectrum of emotions that you have, investments, feelings about the world just widen so much. And now I have a second child, and it happened again even more, even greater. All of those feelings are just in me. So, yes, all those kind of feelings informed how I played Jamie and who she was. Those are things that you don’t know before you’re a mom. For example, you could reach into your pocket in a business meeting, and find a bag of Cheerios, you know? All of the things that just happen that you can’t really explain to someone. Look, I played mom before I was a mom. I think I did okay. But, it’s different now.”
Like me, Gyllenhaal doesn’t know if she would have been sobbing hysterical during the lottery scene while re-watching Waiting for Superman if she wasn’t a mom.
There were other things besides being a mom which drew Gyllenhaal into the movie. “When I read it, I thought, I have to do this movie, we can’t live in a democracy and not have an educated electorate. What tools are we going use to choose our leaders if we don’t educate the people in this country?”
Gyllenhaal is shocked over the controversy wrapped around Won’t Back Down. “I’ve made so many movies where I’ve braced for the controversy; I was ready, for it — movies about vibrators, S&M, the World Trade Center and all sorts of things.”
Gyllenhaal didn’t do much research regarding our country’s educational system until after wrapping the film. Her cast mate Rosie Perez works in public education through her charity, Urban Arts Partnership, and explained, “It’s difficult and disheartening when you walk into these schools and the first thing that the child sees is a metal detector along with a correctional officer with a gun. And a night stick. You wonder if the kids are feeling criminalized,” explained Perez.
She went on to make a very important statement. “One thing that people do not understand is that you may be born into poverty, but that doesn’t mean you’re born into a certain level of capacity. All these kids need is an opportunity. When you present them with the opportunity, they will rise to the occasion each and every time.”
As a society, we’re lucky for these celebrities who embrace a cause and help shed light on it to the larger population. As Jaime and Maile know, a little bit of “lady lucky” never hurts either.
Do yourself a favor and go see Won’t Back Down which opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, September 28, 2012 and has a running time of 121 minutes.