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Won't Back Down (2012)

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Two determined mothers­, one a teacher, look 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.


1 win & 3 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Evelyn Riske
Breena Harper
Cody Alberts
Charles Alberts
Principal Thompson
Principal Holland
Arthur Gould
Olivia Lopez
Nancy Bach ...


Two determined mothers with children who are failing in an inner city school in Pittsburgh join forces to take back the school, and turn it into a place of learning. But before they can change the school for the better, they must first battle the parents, the school board, and the teachers union. Because this is for their children, they won't back down from this enormous challenge. Written by Douglas Young (the-movie-guy)

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If you can't beat the system... change it



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for thematic elements and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



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Release Date:

28 September 2012 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Learning to Fly  »

Filming Locations:

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$2,603,370 (USA) (28 September 2012)


$5,308,553 (USA) (16 November 2012)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

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Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


The film cast includes two Oscar winners: Holly Hunter and Viola Davis; and three Oscar nominees: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Rosie Perez. See more »


Olivia Lopez: I live and breath this bureaucracy. I share your frustration. I read Kafka to make myself feel better.
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Featured in The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Episode #21.4 (2012) See more »


Written by Cole Alexander, Joe Bradley (as Joseph Bradley), Ian St. Pe (as Ian Brown) and Jared Swilley
Performed by Black Lips
Courtesy of Vice Records
By Arrangement with Zync Music Group
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User Reviews

It Raises Some Valid Questions But Still Irritates With A Too Obvious Political Agenda
6 July 2013 | by (Durham Region, Ontario, Canada) – See all my reviews

On the surface, what we have with "Won't Back Down" is yet another "fight the system" movie, and another one that deals with problems in schools - schools that are run by administrators and school boards who really don't want to listen to parents and their concerns, and filled with unmotivated teachers who are there to collect a paycheque and who, for the most part, don't really care all that much about the students they're supposed to be teaching. That's a pretty standard story. Like most of them, this is "inspired by true events" (another line that by now produces mostly a barely stifled yawn from me.) Now, in truth, this is based on actual events in the sense that the fictional John Adams Elementary School is a sort of composite school, with the teachers and parents also being composite, and the movie depicts the kind of struggle that went on in several schools in California (although, intriguingly enough, the movie is set in Pennsylvania) as parents tried to take advantage of new laws to allow them to essentially take over schools that were underperforming.

The whole "charter school" thing is foreign to me, since I'm not an American. I can imagine that trying to do this would be a difficult undertaking, and the movie points out (probably accurately) the roadblocks put up along the way by school boards and teachers' unions. The leads were Maggie Gyllenhall as Jamie Fitzpatrick, whose daughter is dyslexic, and Viola Davis as Nona Alberts, a teacher at Adams with a learning disabled son, who becomes convinced that Jamie is right. The two form an alliance to convince teachers and parents to sign on to the idea to force a vote by the school board on the takeover. Gyllenhall and Davis were both very good in the roles. The movie does what most "fight the system" movies do - it gets the viewer rooting for the underdog who's taking on the evil system.

This does, however, come across as heavy-handed and politically motivated, and certainly it's completely unsympathetic to unions. In fact, I spent most of the 2 hour run time feeling as if I was watching a never-ending conservative TV commercial, blasting away at the evils of unions and big government. The movie makes some valid points and raises some valid issues. What do we do about public schools that just aren't turning out educated kids? What do we do about unmotivated teachers who are protected by their union at the expense of their students? What do we do about school boards (or other levels of government) that just won't listen to concerns and follow their own agendas? All valid issues to discuss and debate. But they took this movie over in a way that made this whole movie seem too political, and in the end it turned out to be not so much inspiring as irritating to be perfectly honest. (4/10)

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