A documentary that is narrated by Matt Damon and takes aim at school choice and other ways of introducing competition to public school systems is itself being critiqued by the woman who inadvertently named the film: Backpack Full of Cash.
In the trailer, Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform is seen using her metaphor along with a cartoon visual of a student with dollar bills flying from his backpack. Allen now fears she’s been made the villain in the movie, and acquaintances who have seen it tell her “it’s five times worse than you imagine.”
Allen claims that Turnstone Productions, Stone Lantern Films and producers Vera Aronow and Sarah Mondale misled her about the nature of the film they interviewed her for, then turned her into the antagonist while her “nemesis,” American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, was made one of the heroes.
In emails obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Allen demands the raw footage of her interview and she asks to see the movie, though she says the filmmakers will only offer her a screening several weeks in the future as they are busy now negotiating distribution and broadcasting rights.
“Let’s be clear — my point below is about the quote being cut OUT OF CONTEXT, deliberately, to make a point that was not the stated focus for the interview,” Allen writes in one email to the filmmakers.
“We are comfortable that our use of your interview was entirely within our rights of editorial discretion as filmmakers. Also we did not agree to any limitation on those rights in the appearance you signed,” they tell Allen. “Over the course of working on this film we came across that catchy phrase ‘backpack full of cash’ numerous times so it was fortuitous for us that you used it in the interview.”
Aronow and Mondale did not respond to a request for comment. Damon is a well-known advocate for public schools. He was treated heroically at a screening of Backpack Full of Cash in Boston in September, attended largely by public-school teachers, though conservative media delighted in pointing out the screening took place at an expensive private school and that Damon does not send his kids to public schools.
“It was a shock to see them cunningly and deliberately cut my quote to serve their own purpose,” Allen says. “We always have to fight people who are, frankly, uneducated about the issue. If I could show Matt Damon what we actually do, and the options kids can have so they don’t have to go to failing schools, he’d be a supporter.”
Damon also did not respond to a request for comment.
“Stone Lantern never told me they were making a documentary that is anti-education reform; will feature Randi Weingarten, my chief nemesis; and, by the way, will be named after my quote,” Allen says.
“Weingarten accuses supporters of school choice of being ‘polite cousins to segregation.’ Meanwhile, look out your back window and you’ll see 90 percent of the kids in La La Land who are going to schools of choice are black and Hispanic, because L.A. Unified School District couldn’t figure out how to educate them.”
Weingarten responds that Allen is involved with groups that are trying to “eliminate progressive politics in our country. They figure that the way to do that is to go after labor unions. They are pro-privatization of schools and they are pro-voucher, and they don’t want to recognize the segregationist roots of vouchers. They want to discriminate and they want to do so with public dollars.”
“This movie is all about smearing us as anti-public education,” Allen says. “It’s a backpack full of hypocrisy. Matt Damon’s kids go to a private school, and the people praised in the film get paid from taxpayer dollars. The teachers unions spend $300 million a year on political races. We don’t have that kind of money. Why won’t they let people decide for themselves whether they want to go to the schools that these people run?”