Actress and TV producer Roma Downey believes that "Woodlawn," a feature film about one of the last high schools to integrate in Birmingham, Alabama, back in the 1970s, can teach society some powerful life lessons in light of increased racial tensions.
"I think the themes of 'Woodlawn' are as relevant today, and with all of the increase that we see with racial tensions and violence — scenes that have grabbed the headlines over the last couple of years — I think a film like this becomes even more important to show how a community, through faith, was able to come together," Downey told TheBlaze. "And that it brought such healing, not just to the school, but to the community."
Directed by brothers Jon and Andy Erwin and executive produced by Downey and her husband Mark Burnett, "Woodlawn," which recently released on DVD, is based on a true story — one that carries with it a powerful message about faith, perseverance and reconciliation.
Honoree's Mark Burnett and Roma Downey attend the Anti-Defamation League Entertainment Industry Dinner honoring Roma Downey and Mark Burnett at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on May 8, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (John M. Heller/Getty Images)
Downey said that she has been stunned to observe some of the reactions that audience members have had while watching the film.
"It was nothing short of extraordinary," she said, reiterating that she believes that "Woodlawn" holds the power to heal by enriching people with hope. "I don't remember being in a movie theater in which people jumped to their feet and started cheering."
Downey added, "It's a hopeful movie about people coming together and building bridges and learning to trust each other and love each other."
Her description of the film matched what Jon Erwin told The Church Boys podcast in October, saying that he was “absolutely stunned” by the reaction to the movie, as he saw hundreds of teenagers flock to the front of church sanctuaries during screenings to accept Jesus and commit themselves to spreading love in their schools and communities.
“Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama … was destined to close its doors because of violence from forced immigration, and nothing could really fix this problem of hatred and prejudice,” the filmmaker said, noting that a “spiritual awakening” among members of the school’s football team changed all that. “In one night the entire team gave their lives to Christ.”
That key scene is reenacted in “Woodlawn” by actor Sean Astin (“The Goonies” and “The Lord of the Rings”), who plays Hank, a preacher of sorts who rallies the students and calls them to reconcile with one another.
In an emotional scene, the players are seen accepting Christ and committing to love one another, despite intense divisiveness at the school. It’s that message that Erwin said was resonating with young people.
“When teens see it … they want to do what’s in the film,” Erwin explained. “So, like at Prestonwood Baptist [Church] a week and a half ago … I’ve never seen the altar — the front of the church — not be big enough … for the amount of young people that stood and flooded the front.”
Listen to Erwin discuss this at the 1:12:30 mark below:
The filmmaker said that “hundreds and hundreds of kids” have been making a commitment for Jesus and to reconcile with one another and that he’s been seeing it happen everywhere that “Woodlawn” has been screened.
“Kids are standing up and making the decision together,” he said, describing one event during which 200 kids “made decisions for Christ.”
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