Kenny Leon to Direct Film Shooting in Atlanta Written By Spike Lee’s Wife


A new film from Spike Lee’s wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, will be filming in Atlanta starting this week.

The civil rights-era movie, “The Watsons Go to Birmingham,” is being produced for The Hallmark Channel and this week began the start of production in Atlanta for a 19-day shoot.

The film, based on a 1995 historical fiction novel of the same name by Christopher Paul Curtis, was created by Lee and Nikki Silver. Lee also wrote the script and spent nine years trying to get it to air.

Renowned Atlanta playwright Kenny Leon will direct, as he did last year’s “Steel Magnolias” remake for Lifetime. Walmart and P&G are co-sponsoring the film.

“The Watsons” is set in 1963 and is told through the eyes of a 12 year old whose family from Flint, Mich., visits their grandmother in Birmingham, Ala., the year the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed.

According to Hallmark, Grammy Award nominee Anika Noni Rose will star in the film along with three-time Tony Award nominee and Grammy nominee David Alan Grier (“In Living Color”), Skai Jackson (“Jessie”), LaTanya Richardson (“The Fighting Temptations”), Wood Harris (“The Wire,” “Remember The Titans”), Bryce Jenkins (“Easy A,” “Have A Little Faith”) and Harrison Knight (“We the Party”).

The film is scheduled to air Sept. 20, five days after the 50th anniversary of the church bombing and shortly after the same anniversary of the Martin Luther King led March on Washington. 

“I was surprised he didn’t come down for the Final Four, but someone has to stay home and watch the kids,” Lee said of her husband. “Maybe he’ll stop by later. He’s wonderfully supportive, a husband who does this for a living. He understands that I have to be away from home for a month.”

She said she knew Leon only in passing but when she told him about the project at the “Steel Magnolias” film opening, he expressed immediate interest. He was her first pick for director and was thrilled he said yes. “He’s really great with kids,” she told the AJC. “I think it was all very serendipitous.”


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