NYT: Occupy Propaganda Film Is 'Calm and Smart,' But Movie Criticizing Teachers Unions Has 'Political Agenda in Overdrive'

New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott didn't much like "Won't Back Down," about two mothers fighting uncaring teachers and immovable bureaucracy (including the teachers' union) in an inner city school. Scott, a liberal, ironically warned that pious expressions of concern for 'the children' are usually evidence of a political agenda in overdrive" (as if liberals never bleat about "the children"!) The Times much preferred a left-wing propaganda piece on Occupy Wall Street.

Scott, who in 2004 praised left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore as "a credit to the republic" in his review of "Fahrenheit 9-11," wrote on Friday:

If “The Simpsons” has taught us anything, it is that pious expressions of concern for “the children” are usually evidence of a political agenda in overdrive. “Won’t Back Down,” a new schoolhouse melodrama starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, presents an especially blatant example of this rule. A movie that insists, repeatedly and at high volume, that “it’s all about the kids” might just cause you to wonder what else it is about, and this one is not shy about showing its ideological hand.

Who, after all, could possibly be against kids? The film’s answer is one favored by some partisans in the raucous and confusing public debate about educational reform: teachers’ unions. Opening a little more than a week after the end of a strike by Chicago teachers, “Won’t Back Down,” which makes the vague claim to have been “inspired by true events,” pits a plucky, passionate band of parents and educators against a venal and intransigent cabal of labor bosses and their greedy, complacent rank-and-file minions.

Scott admitted "the issue is complicated" and that he is "not inclined to cheerlead for a status quo that all too often cloaks its promotion of mediocrity in the language of excellence." But he complained that the movie "ultimately has no use for nuance, and its third act is a mighty cataract of speechifying and breathless plot turns that strip the narrative down to its Manichaean core. Once teachers give up job security and guaranteed benefits, learning disabilities will be cured, pencils will stop breaking and the gray skies of Pittsburgh will glow with sunshine. Who could be against that?"

By contrast, reviewer Daniel Gold showed no such concerns about blatant ideology in his brief review of the purely propagandistic documentary "American Autumn: An Occudoc."

A year after Occupy Wall Street protests began some pundits are quick to declare the movement dead or pointless, a venting of unfocused frustration that wasted its opportunities. Occupy members would beg to differ.

....While eventually embracing a host of progressive causes, Occupy fundamentally opposed undue corporate power and influence over the levers of government. And it pressed the issue of income inequality and its social costs, defining this election season’s dominant theme.

Gold noted the documentary featured Cornel West, Naomi Klein, and Michael Moore without mentioning their deep red ideologies, and found it praiseworthy.

It will probably not persuade many Occupy critics to change their opinions. But as manifestoes go it is calm and smart, offsetting its stridency with discussion, music, even humor, while issuing a call to arms. “The world needs to change,” Mr. Trainor says, calling his film “an invitation for you to participate.”

TimesWatch Double Standards Movies New York Times Daniel Gold A.O. Scott
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