Friday, September 20, 2013

Hallmark's 'The Watsons Go To Birmingham'


The Hallmark Channel’s The Watsons Go To Birmingham, set to have its original movie world premiere at 8 p.m., Fri., Sept 20, is a drama about a family that drives to Birmingham (Ala.) for a vacation shortly before the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Sept. 15, 1963, that killed four little black girls (Addie Mae Collins,
Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley).

The film, based on Christopher Paul Curtis’ Newbery Honor Winning Book, stars Tony® winner and Grammy® nominee Anika Noni Rose (The Good Wife, Princess and the Frog, Dreamgirls) and three time Tony® and Grammy® nominee David Alan Grier (Porgy and Bess, Peeples, In Living Color), Wood Harris (The Wire, Remember The Titans) Skai Jackson (Jessie), LaTanya Richardson Jackson (The Fighting Temptations), Pauletta Washington (Beloved), Bryce Clyde Jenkins (Easy A, Have A Little Faith) and Harrison Knight (We The Party).

The film, part of the Hallmark Channel’s new Friday night appointment viewing franchise, ‘Walden Family Theater’, is being presented upon the 50th anniversary of one of the most pivotal events in the Civil Right movement.

The film follows an all-American family on their road trip from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham, circa 1963.  Their historic summer experiences give them a new found courage to stand-up for what is right and helps them grow stronger as a family.

Wood Harris and Anika Noni Rose play Daniel and Wilona Watson. They have three children, 15-year-old delinquent Byron (Knight), nerdy 11-year old Kenny  (Jenkins) and eight-year-old adorable sister Joetta (Jackson).

When Byron continues to act up, his parents decide the family needs a dose of Grandma Sands’ (Richardson Jackson) no nonsense approach.

When they arrive in Birmingham, they discover a whole new world. During the historic summer, the Watsons find themselves caught up in something much bigger than Byron’s antics.  

The made-for-television movie is a touching, sobering, dramatic take on how an all-American family found themselves in the midst of disaster and how they rose through the pain.

The movie is directed by Kenny Leon, produced by Nikki Silver and Tonya Lewis Lee, a one-time attorney, who now has her own production company.

I caught up with the cast recently to discuss the impact of making a film about the earlier days of the civil rights movement.

DD: Why did you want to be a part of this movie?

Wood Harris: I wanted to be a part of it because it happens during a historic part of history.

DD: This is a different kind of role for you.

Wood Harris: Yeah. This is a good look for me. I’ve played some bad guys in the past.  It’s good to play a family man. It’s good for people to see me without a gun in my hand. I want to be diverse, not to repeat performances. I don’t want to keep playing Avon (The Wire).

DD: You’re a family man yourself. Did this hit home at all?

Wood Harris: Yeah, I’m a family man. I got two kids. There are some things I wouldn’t want them to see me do. I have a 16-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. I want them to see this movie and then we can all talk about it as a family.

DD: Wood, tell me about the film, which is supposed to be about an all-American, perfect family.

Wood Harris: Well, that’s loaded. They are perfect in that they are together. It’s about a family going on a summer excursion. We are a middle class family. It’s me, my wife and three kids. During that time if you were a troubled kid, you would end up at grandma’s house. When I was growing up, that was a sobering experience for a kid. My character adds humor to the movie. The family gets to Birmingham just when some big events are about to happen.  This really turns out to be a coming of age movie.

DD: The movie centers around a horrible event.

Wood Harris: Sometimes you need an event to change lemons into lemonade. I don’t think we should forget this event. They don’t teach this in school.  Everyone needs to remember this story. It’s my goal in the movie to bring insight to my family.

DD: Harrison, before doing this film what did you know about the bombings?

Harrison Knight: Before the film I didn’t know about the bombings. In my school we learned about Rosa Parks and Dr. Kings’ speech. You need a film like this so that the Watsons can cast a light on an event like this.

DD: Harrison, you’re young. Do you think there has been any change since the time setting of this movie?

Harrison Knight: We’ve made progress since then. We’ve made some good leeway. One of the most troubling things to me now is the fact that people are being profiled. What would the civil rights movement be about today?  It’s one thing to have civility. Human rights are to be had. Civility isn’t enough. I do not surround myself around small thinking. I’ve got to be around people with ideas.

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