My expectations for movies with a message—especially a message of which I approve—are low. Message flicks of any bent too often succumb to tedious repetition of simplistic morals, and libertarian types are not heavily represented among the best filmmakers. This is why I was surprised by the new movie Miss Virginia, which I just saw at a preview screening. It tells the story of Virginia Walden Ford—whom, full disclosure, I know—and her crusade to create the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program, better known, simply, as the DC voucher program. The movie does not preach, it lets Walden Ford’s story sear in its moral: parents need choice, and children cannot wait.
Miss Virginia takes place in early 2000s Washington, especially the long-depressed southeast section, and depicts the struggles of Walden Ford and other families. In neighborhoods beset by poverty, crime, and drug addiction, the public schools are rendered inhospitable to learning, and sometimes outright dangerous. When things turn especially threatening for her son, Walden Ford toils desperately to get him into a private school and keep him there. But though it costs much less than the public schools spend per pupil, she fails. And the battle for choice begins.
The movie, produced by the Moving Picture Institute and starring Orange Is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba, is good cinema: clear visuals, a compelling soundtrack, realistic dialogue, and light-handed exposition leavened with a bit of genuinely funny, but tonally appropriate, comic relief. This isn’t an earnest-but-amateur effort to make a statement, with the quality of the film placing a distant second to the message. It takes some dramatic license here and there, but the movie is grounded in the basic but powerful reality of Walden Ford’s story.
And what is that reality? Ultimately, the same, simple reason we need school choice: parents, families, and communities must be able to choose the schools they think are best for their children rather than being powerless while their kids suffer and their tax dollars go to a single system of government schools. All that Walden Ford, and so many who have followed her in DC and beyond, have wanted, is to put their children into safer, kinder, more responsive schools, and on paths to better lives.
This is not, by the way, a condemnation of public schools. In many places, and for many people, they may well be the best choices. It is having the power to choose, not the type of school chosen, that matters.
Those who see Miss Virginia, opening broadly on October 18, will grasp these things not because the moral is beaten into them, but because the movie, and the struggle it deftly depicts, makes one feel why choice is crucial. A child unable to get a better education, especially when it is there for the taking, is heartbreaking. School choice is key to ending that pain.