A White Guy from the South Directs a Film about Race--And it's...

A White Guy from the South Directs a Film about Race--And it's...
Andy and Mandii Erwin visit the Mount Tabor Global United Fellowship Church in Nassau, Bahamas.


Woodlawn tells the true story of race, rivalry and religion within the confines of Birmingham Alabama’s Woodlawn High School, the last school in Birmingham to integrate.

The story follows wonder kid athlete “Touchdown” Tony Nathan (portrayed by talented newcomer Caleb Castille), as his gridiron skills breathe new life into the wildly unsuccessful Woodlawn football team.

Solid performances by Nicholas Bishop, Jon Voight, Sean Astin, C. Thomas Howell and Sherri Shepherd (in a refreshing dramatic role), as well as powerful action shots from the gritty football field, give Woodlawn the Hollywood action movie feel that makes you forget it’s a Christian movie.

Caleb Castille delivers a powerful performance in Woodlawn.

Caleb Castille delivers a powerful performance in Woodlawn.

Oh, but Christ does make an appearance, in a most fascinating way. As Birmingham stood divided and torn by race and rival football teams, an unlikely evangelist stepped in to spread the message of one God and one love.

The film is directed by brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin.

I recently sat down with Andrew Erwin after the Bahamas screening of Woodlawn to discuss the 1973 story that is still so relevant today.

What attracted you to the Woodlawn story?

This was a story that I loved, that I grew up hearing, and I’ve heard about this team and this game that was the biggest game in the Southeast. I heard about the love that these [rival] teams have for each other, and I heard about the race and reconciliation, and that attracted me as a filmmaker.

How did you prepare to capture the story lines of racial strife of African Americans and the religious movement on film?

When we started we tried to ask a lot of questions to understand what was really going on, and a lot of people that were involved with the making of this movie asked, ‘What if this was our 1968?’

And you look at 1968 and what people fought through and there was an unrest; there was a frustration. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated; Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated; there were race riots; [anti-war protesters] were frustrated over Vietnam; and a generation that had tried sex, drugs and rock and roll, had become disillusioned.

In the midst of all that frustration, this amazing movement happened among youth culture called the Jesus Movement, where these hippies who were kind of burned out had experienced this unconditional love. Love that they found in Jesus Christ; and they went from calling themselves self-proclaimed freaks to Jesus Freaks.

It was an amazing movement of love that swept the country. 500,000 kids who were burned out on drugs turned to Jesus Christ in one year and it really began to change our youth culture.

That’s why when you listened to the songs of the times, you heard these spiritual [undertones] in music because of the spiritual movement that was happening.

Did conversations about current race relations invade the set?

As we were on set, the Ferguson verdict came down and one of our actors, Marcus Henderson, was sitting in his seat, crying to himself.  It didn’t register, it kind of went over my head. I said, ‘are you okay?’ And he didn’t say anything and then, it kind of clicked, I said, ‘Oh, that’s right, you’re from Ferguson.’

And he said, ‘Yeah, my mom lived right down the street.’

And he was in tears. And in that moment, I tried to step outside of myself and I said, can you help me understand? I understand that this is important, but as a white man from the South, I don’t want this to go over my head because I don’t have the same experience. Please help me understand your pain.

He spent a great deal of time helping me to understand what was going on culturally, that I didn’t get. And I asked Marcus if he wanted to go home, and he said, ‘No, I need to be on this set. I need to be here, there’s so much hate in the world. I need to be doing something like this where we’re promoting love.’

Woodlawn opens everywhere on October 16.

Follow Zondra Hughes on Twitter @ZondraHughes

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