"I don't know about you, but my son can't wait. He needs change today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. And definitely not eventually."
--Uzo Aduba in the lead role
in Miss Virginia
If we could only go back 20 years and tell the world what it would grow up to be! Phones that take pictures! Online ordering for food! And less important stuff, such as self-driving cars.
The other day, on the recommendation of a friend, we asked Mr. Big Shot Movie Man in the newsroom about a movie that was just released, and in a few minutes we were watching it. In the office. On the computer. Compliments of a friend in the movie business.
Why would anybody want to live in another year?
As for the film, we recommend. Can we give it five stars? If you want to know why education reformers pull (what's left of) their hair when talking about education in America, you might want to watch this film, Miss Virginia, possibly coming to a theater near you and soon to be available on VOD. It's not exactly a Marvel action movie, so no telling how close it will get to Arkansas or, when here, how many theaters will show it. But these days, with streaming, computers and self-driving cars, few movies are out of reach.
The film tells the story of, you guessed it, Miss Virginia, played by Uzo Aduba, whom you might know from Orange Is The New Black. This time she doesn't have crazy eyes as much as weepy eyes. In the story, her son would be left to the mercies of the local school district--that is, the mercy of the streets in Washington, D.C.--because she can't afford to get him into a private school. You can say this is the scripted, non-documentary version of Waiting for 'Superman.'
You would think that movies in 2019 would have other subjects--like superheroes who climb walls like spiders, or zombies that eat brains. But every once in a while, a director will take on a more realistic subject, like the fight over vouchers in a failing school district. The director this time was R.J. Daniel Hanna, and you'll probably be hearing more of him in the future.
The real Miss Virginia, a black activist in Washington, D.C., named Virginia Walden Ford, became a proponent of vouchers in the 1990s. She's been in the papers in the past because of her work. And she's been in the papers recently because of this movie.
Speaking of the papers, The Washington Post reports that D.C. has the nation's only federally funded voucher program, which sends 1,000 kids to private schools every year. Mrs. Ford's own website says the scholarships focus on low-income kids. And the program boasts a 91 percent graduation rate.
The Washington, D.C., city council has asked Congress to phase out the program.
How do they sleep at night? And how do we keep what little hair we have left?
Back to our movie . . . .
Miss Virginia also stars Amirah Vann, who steals the show. And, no kidding, Matthew Modine. Yes, him: Private Joker. (We kept expecting R. Lee Ermey to jump out of the screen.) At first Mr. Modine's character, a congressman very much not representing the District of Columbia, seems as exasperated as other would-be education reformers, all but throwing up his hands and giving up. He has to be brought around.
Experience in the movies tells you it'd be Miss Virginia doing the persuading. But before she can get to the congressman, she has to persuade her mayor, the bureaucracy, and drug dealers to get out of her way.
"Education is the civil rights issue of our time. We the people have failed in our moral and legal obligation to provide quality education to every American child. Right now, thousands of children, right here in our nation's capital, are bearing the burden of our failure. These children are caught up in a cycle of poverty, dependency and crime. We have abandoned the most vulnerable of members of our society. And we must do better."
Sound familiar? It's Mr. Modine's character introducing the bill for school vouchers in D.C. And every school reformer in America knows the lamentation. We must do better.
So what's keeping us?
An entrenched bureaucracy, for one. Inertia, for another. And, as the movie maybe too bluntly puts it (and only maybe too bluntly), a certain class of powerful people enjoy the power that comes with running school systems--and would sacrifice the next generation, most often from the most challenging schools, to get it. And not even consider changes to the status lamentable quo if it means their having dwindling influence in certain circles.
In the movie Miss Virginia, the awakening and turning point in the film comes when the crowd starts chanting: Kids Come First! Kids Come First!
But they don't always. Not in real life.
Sometimes adults with other priorities too often steal the scene.
Virginia Walden Ford just so happens to be from a town around here. One called Little Rock, Ark.--and growing up here in the 1960s, she was one of the first kids who desegregated the public schools. Her parents were teachers. She knows the importance of public education.
Then she moved back east, had children, and feared them falling through the cracks in the schools there--until she helped form D.C. Parents for School Choice in the 1990s.
Not only does the film tell a good, and important story, it's the story of a Little Rock native done good. Or actually, done great. On a national stage, no less. And no telling how many kids will be saved by her efforts.
The director, R.J. Daniel Hanna, is also an Arkie. Well, the official bio claims he was born in Canada, but he was reared in these latitudes, so we'll claim him, by jingos. As we've learned over the years, there's always an Arkansas connection. Always.
In the next year, there will be a mighty struggle between the forces of reform and the forces of inertia right here in Arkansas when it comes to schools. And it will take place in Miss Virginia's own Little Rock. For those who'd join this fight, on one side or t'other, we have recommended viewing:
Editorial on 10/18/2019
Print Headline: Movie matters