School-choice advocate says Damon-narrated film is ‘backpack full of hypocrisy’

Matt Damon at Wheelock College before the screening of the movie “Backpack Full of Cash.”
Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Matt Damon at Wheelock College before the screening of the movie “Backpack Full of Cash.”

Before she’s even seen the film, a school-choice advocate is complaining about a new documentary narrated by Matt Damon.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Jeanne Allen, of the Center for Education Reform, is upset about the way she’s portrayed in the trailer for “Backpack Full of Cash,” a documentary critical of the movement to privatize public education in the United States.

In the trailer, Allen appears on screen saying: “Our children have a backpack full of cash and the schools should vie for the privilege of having that backpack turned over to them.” In e-mails to producers, and obtained by THR, Allen says the quote was taken out of context for the purpose of making her the villain.


Damon, who grew up in Cambridge and attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, is a fierce advocate for public education. A few weeks ago, the actor screened the 90-minute documentary at Wheelock College, joined by his mother, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an activist for early childhood education, as well as the movie’s director, Sarah Mondale, and co-producer Vera Aronow.

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In an interview with the Globe before the event, Damon said, “Teachers have been increasingly beat up and devalued for the last two decades, and ultimately we’re all going to pay for that as a society.”

Meanwhile, Allen claims she was misled about the filmmakers’ intentions, and she skewered Damon for sending his own children to private school while advocating for public education.

“It was a shock to see them cunningly and deliberately cut my quote to serve their own purpose,” Allen told THR. “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.

“This movie is all about smearing us as anti-public education,” Allen said. “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.”


Damon has not commented on the kerfuffle, but in an e-mail obtained by THR, the filmmaker said they used “editorial discretion” in using Allen’s comment as the title of the movie.

“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,” they wrote.