"Won't Back Down" looks, at first glance, no different from the sort of inspirational drama Hollywood loves to offer America. It stars two Oscar-nominated actresses -- Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis. It was directed and co-written by someone with Sundance Film Festival cred -- Daniel Barnz, who also made "Phoebe in Wonderland." And it has an uplifting story -- a parent and a teacher take on the establishment to try to save a failing elementary story for the sake of their children.
But "Won't Back Down" is being subject to the sort of protests you'd normally see for a picture that, say, negatively portrays a religion or a racial minority -- though "Won't Back Down" does neither. Teachers' unions upset with the film's message about the necessity of education reform picketed the premiere.
Lance Reddick, who plays the husband of Viola Davis' character in the film, knew "Won't Back Down" would spark discussion. This son of Baltimore teachers didn't see the film through a political lens, though -- he had a much more personal take in the subject matter, as he revealed during a recent visit to Washington.
"I've gone through it," he said simply. He's now famous for his televisions roles in "The Wire" and "Fringe," but when he graduated from Yale in the early 1990s, the now-49-year-old actor was a young, struggling father. "My first year out of drama school, I understudied a Broadway role and had an off-Broadway show, back to back. I was commuting to New York City for a year from New Haven, [Conn]. It's an hour and 45 minutes each way," he recalled. "We stayed in New Haven so my daughter could stay in first grade there." He and his wife needed time to figure out what New York neighborhood to move into to get their daughter into a decent school.
"My daughter went to public school until she was in third grade." Then her teacher told the Reddicks their child was too smart to stay in public school. They received financial aid, but that dried up after two years. Their daughter went back into the public system, only to be told again that her future depended on a good education, which New York's public schools couldn't provide. Her talents, fortunately, got her into an alternative public high school, Bard High School Early College.
So Reddick knows firsthand the anguish felt by parents whose children are doomed to failing schools, sometimes hoping against hope their kids will get one of the few available spots at one of the few charter schools. It didn't take him long to accept the part in "Won't Back Down." "It was the opportunity to work with Viola, and on a film that wasn't just great, but important," he said.