Calling it a “Rosa Parks moment,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put a momentous stamp on the upcoming release of Davis Guggenheim’s education-reform documentary “Waiting for Superman.”
The occasion was the film’s Wednesday night Washington premiere, organized by distributor Paramount Vantage, with a screening at the Newseum followed by a Q&A with notables involved in the film. That it will have the impact on public policy Parks’ actions ultimately had on the civil rights movement might be unlikely, but a good portion of Washington’s political class attended the event to further investigate the subject matter.
In addition to Duncan and several others from his Education Department staff, David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama; Melody Barnes, head of the president’s Domestic Policy Council; Heather Higginbottom, deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy; Rep. Jane Harman; Rep. Mary Bono Mack; Sen. Al Franken; Sen. Scott Brown; Sen. Christopher Dodd; and Sen. Frank Lautenberg attended.
The event was part of Paramount’s widespread effort not only to drive awareness of the film but also to provoke wider debate about the merits and methods of education reform. The studio already has screened the film for select reform groups and mayors nationwide.
The studio used a similar strategy to impressive effect with Guggenheim’s 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” which also first screened at Sundance then won two Oscars, grossed $50 million worldwide and goosed a national debate about global warming after its late-May opening.
“Superman” unspools Sept. 24 in limited release. That puts its opening smack in the midst of congressional election campaigning, which so far has lacked much talk about school reform.
Viacom chief Philippe Dauman and Paramount chairman and CEO Brad Grey attended the pic’s premiere, along with Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore; John Legend, whose original song “Shine” plays over the end credits (Melissa Etheridge won an Oscar for writing “Truth’s” original song, “I Need to Wake Up”); producer Lesley Chilcott; Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson; and Jeff Skoll, Jim Berk and Ricky Strauss of Participant Media, which produced the film.
Viacom’s recently launched education initiative Get Schooled sponsored the event, which featured a postscreening panel with Guggenheim, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and Harlem Children Zone’s Geoffrey Canada, an education reformer featured in the film. (Weingarten and Rhee also appear in the movie.) Stephen Colbert contributed a humorous video intro to the screening.
Vantage screened the pic last weekend in Toronto, with both screenings drawing standing ovations. Bill Gates, who appears in the film, attended, and the studio brought in the five kids featured in the film and their families.
A Los Angeles premiere of “Superman” is set for Monday; a New York bow is scheduled for Thursday.