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Waiting for Superman Can Stop Waiting for Oscar

The Academy Awards dissed the biggest education documentary of 2010. What gives?

Nominees for the 83rd Academy Awards were announced yesterday, and in the documentary category Exit through the Gift Shop, Gasland, Inside Job, Restrepo and Waste Land were all given nods. The documentary you probably heard about most last year—and probably actually saw—was not. Oscar dissed Waiting for 'Superman.'

When Superman made its debut, pundits claimed an Oscar would sit next to the golden statue director Davis Guggenheim garnered for An Inconvenient Truth. Despite the cast appearing on Oprah and generous support from Bill Gates, that's not happening and a few interesting theories are floating around about why.

One is that politically liberal Hollywood, which traditionally supports unions, refused to back a film that cast teachers unions in such a negative light. Breitbart's Big Hollywood calls the film left-learning director Davis Guggenheim's "Nixon goes to China moment," and says Guggenheim's, now "learning another truth—the price a political apostate pays in Hollywood for straying off the liberal plantation."

The official inside line on Tinseltown Gossip, Nikke Finke's Deadline Hollywood, skipped the political angle and stuck to what makes Superman a documentary instead of a feature film—it's factualness. Deadline alludes to some "grumbling about its complete authenticity by some in the Documentary branch—and they are the ones doing the voting."

In November, it came out that one of the scenes in Superman had been staged. Guggenheim wasn't around to film Francisco's mother Maria touring the Harlem Success Academy, a charter school with lottery based admissions. By the time Guggenheim filmed the scene, Francisco had already been rejected from the school. The ensuing dust-up and complaints that Guggenheim had faked part of his film to gin up emotions was negative press the film didn't need.

The Washington Post also cites a litany of other problems with Superman—all revolving around the film's approach to education reform.

"Guggenheim edited the film to make it seem as if charter schools are a systemic answer to the ills afflicting many traditional public schools, even though they can’t be, by their very design. He unfairly demonized Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and gave undeserved hero status to reformer and former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Guggenheim compared schools in Finland and the United States without mentioning that Finland has a 3 percent child poverty rate and the United States has a 22 percent rate."


And, not everyone was cheering for the documentary in the first place. Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch famously destroyed Superman in the New York Review of Books by pulling out data that disproved many of the film's points.

Oscar, or no Oscar, Superman's made a definite impact in the last year on the American education reform zeitgeist. But, as Guggenheim himself acknowledged, "A movie can feature kids, but it can't write a law."

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