“The Watsons Go to Birmingham,” a movie adaptation from the award-winning book by Christopher Paul Curtis, just wrapped up production here in the Atlanta area.
The film, set in 1963, was directed by Atlanta’s own Kenny Leon, founder of True Colors Theatre Company. During the final days of filming last week, visitors to the set had a chance to learn about the movie that invokes one of the Civil Rights Movement’s most tragic moments: the bombing death of four little girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church.
The film stars Anika Noni Rose, LaTanya Richardson and Wood Harris as members of an “All American Family” who are transformed by their road trip from their home in Michigan to visit relatives in Alabama. Written by Tonya Lewis Lee, who serves as co-executive producer with Nikki Silver, the film will be part of the Walden Family Theater, a new series of family movies created by Walmart, P&G, Walden Media and ARC Entertainment.
During media and guest day on the movie set at a house near the Stone Mountain Women’s Club, Randy Michael Testa, vice president of education and professional development for Walden Media, talked about the importance of a movie like “Watsons.”
“This is an opportunity to teach young people about the Civil Rights Movement in a way that is more accessible than reading about it in a text book,” Testa said. “We are committed to family entertainment with a message.”
Testa said he and Walden also are working with The Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama to adapt their curriculum on teaching about the Civil Rights Movement in conjunction with the Watsons’ movie. This will help school teachers use the film to teach about the Civil Rights Movement, he said.
The educational materials will be loaded on the Walden Media website, including some of the movie’s storyboards by Brian McKissick, Testa said. “This will help teachers show students that you have to imagine things before you can do them,” he said.
Without giving the whole movie away for those who have not read the book, here’s what the press release says:
“So the Watsons load up the 1948 Plymouth Brown Bomber outfitted with a true tone Ultra-Glide turntable and head South with plenty of comedy en route. When they
finally make it to Birmingham, they meet Grandma Sands and her friend, Mr. Robert (David Alan Grier), who show them around town and the Watsons discover that life is very different there than in Flint – and not necessarily for the better.”
Tonya Lee, wife of filmmaker Spike Lee, said she was invited to come on board for the movie by her co-executive producer Nikki Silver.
“I was familiar with the book because my child read it in school,” she said. “I thought this would be a great project to bring to the screen.” This is her first time producing, and she said she is excited about the opportunity.
Also visiting the set were Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, and the Rev. C.T. Vivian. The Watsons’ book received the Newberry and Coretta Scott King awards.
Director Leon, known for his support of projects with a message, is directing a feature-length film for a third time. His other TV film projects include “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Steele Magnolias.”
Watsons is scheduled to be telecast on the Hallmark Channel on Sept. 20 at 8 p.m.
(Photos: 1 – Bernice King (second from left) stands with actors Anika Noni Rose, La Tanya Richardson and ADW Publisher M. Alexis Scott on the movie set in Stone Mountain. 2 – Bernice King (second from right), CEO of The King Center and daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, visits the set of “The Watsons Go to Birmingham” with co-producers Nikki Silver (left) and Tonya Lewis
Lee (right) and Walden Media Founder and President Micheal Flaherty. 3 – Randy Michael Testa, vice president of education and professional development for Walden Media, stands on the movie set with Bernice King, CEO of The King
Center and daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Photos by M. Alexis Scott and Brian McKissick)