Hollywood filmmakers Jon and Andrew Erwin are gearing up for the October release of "Woodlawn," a feature film about one of the last high schools to integrate in Birmingham, Alabama, back in the 1970s — and they believe that the movie could have a major cultural impact.
The film, a drama that follows the brothers' previous theatrical releases, "Moms' Night Out" and "October Baby," holds the potential to do much more than merely entertain, Jon Erwin told The Church Boys podcast, highlighting his belief that the storyline could help ease racial tensions by showing how the power of Christianity can fundamentally transform hearts and minds.
"Woodlawn," which is based on a true story, tells of the pain, violence — and inevitable redemption — that unfolded at Woodlawn High School back in 1973. With themes that mirror the debate about race and inequality that has raged in America over the past year, Erwin said that making the movie late last year while chaos and protests unfolded on the news each night was, at moments, surreal.
"We were filming in October, November, all the way up to Christmas, and one of our actors is from Ferguson," Erwin said, referencing the Missouri city where violence and protests broke out following former police officer Darren Wilson's fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown last August. "And it was crazy that everything that we were filming was actually playing out on television."
Listen to Erwin talk about "Woodlawn" below:
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The filmmaker said that he told the actor that he could go home to Ferguson and that production could simply be rescheduled, but the actor declined to take him up on the offer.
"He said, ‘No, this is why we’re making this movie. Because this is the answer to what’s going on in my hometown,'" Erwin recalled.
The filmmaker, a Christian who produces family friendly films alongside his brother, said that he believes that the true story behind "Woodlawn" is "proof that love can overcome hatred," adding that he believes hatred must be "overcome by something stronger."
"Woodlawn was one of the last schools to integrate, and there was a lot of tension and violence. And, in fact, the FBI wanted to shut it down," he said. "And in the midst of that, a lot is going on around the country, because of what became known as the ‘Jesus Movement’ — kind of a spiritual awakening, a revival, and it started at the school. It started on the football team."
According to Erwin, 44 of the team's 48 players accepted Jesus Christ and became Bible-believers — and it all unfolded on the same night. That commitment fundamentally changed not only their lives, but also the negative dynamics at the school.
"They committed themselves to this idea of loving God and loving each other in a school and city that had no clue what that really meant," Erwin said. "Obviously Birmingham had a lot of problems in the ‘60s."
The filmmaker believes that "Woodlawn" will offer up a powerful cinematic message at a time when similar issues are percolating in American society, highlighting his belief that the "power of love and unity" can conquer all.
Watch the trailer:
THIS is the movie you have been waiting for! Woodlawn coming to theaters October 16th! This is what happens when God shows up!Posted by Woodlawn: Dare to Believe on Thursday, April 2, 2015
"I think it’s a great reminder that the power of love and the fact that love can conquer nature, and the message of Christianity is love and unity," he said. "And when that is modeled out by any group of people, things change. And Woodlawn is proof that that works, and I think that’s a very relevant message today."
Plans for "Woodlawn" were set in stone long before Ferguson erupted. Interestingly, Erwin recalled Pastor Michael Catt of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia — an executive producer of "Woodlawn" — saying three months before filming began that he believed the world would be ready for a film like this.
"He said, ‘You know what, I think you need to go make this movie right now. I think the world is going to be ready for this movie. I think the world is going to need this movie,'" Erwin recalled. "And those words were almost prophetic in a way."
"Woodlawn" stars Jon Voight and Sean Astin, among others. Find out more about the film here.