Roma Downey, who together with her husband Mark Burnett created the hit miniseries The Bible, spoke exclusively with Breitbart News to discuss the release of critically acclaimed faith-based film Woodlawn on Wednesday.
Woodlawn, which was produced by the famed Hollywood power couple, stars Jon Voight, Sean Austin, Nic Bishop, C. Thomas Howell, DeVon Franklin and Caleb Castille. It first debuted in theaters nationwide in October and is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
The Provident Films picture is based on the true story of star black football player Tony Nathan (Castille) and is set in racially divided Birmingham, Alabama amid forced integration of Alabama’s public high schools.
Before his four seasons with the Alabama Crimson Tide, and nine seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Nathan was the one of the first black superstars in Birmingham, and played for Woodlawn High School during a spiritual awakening during 1973-74 season.
A prolific running back, Nathan later played for legendary Crimson Tide coach Bear Bryant (played by Voight in the film).
Downey tells Breitbart that she and her husband Mark Burnett decided to produce the film after recognizing its message of unity:
It is an important story that is relevant considering all the tension in our nation right now. It is a wonderful story of how hope and healing came into community that was ripped apart by racial tension and created healing and unity, not just with the team, but with the entire community.
“Mark and I were thrilled to be a part of a film that told such a hopeful story,” she said.
In addition to being filled with action-packed football sequences, the film dramatically captures the mood of post-integration Birmingham, which had become know as “Bombingham,” after a string of racially motivated bombings gripped the city.
On filmmakers Jon and Andrew Erwin, whose real life father Hank helped to heal racial division at Woodlawn by praying with the school’s football team, Downey says she and Burnett were just happy to help them bring the story to life.
“When we first met the Erwins were were inspired by their voice, the character played by Sean Austin [Rudy] is based on their own life father,” she says. “This is a story that they grew up with as young boys.”
Furthermore, Downey says the film offers a rare ability to accurately portray an “authentic emotional experience.”
“Surely that is the best we can expect from filmmakers,” Downey says.
So, what keeps Downey and Burnett continuing to pursue stories of hope, faith and healing, despite working in an industry that is often unkind to faith-based pics? She answers:
We have been encouraged by how doors are beginning to open for this kind of content. I think that the success of the Bible series and the numbers of people who watched it really got the attention of our community. Hopefully the hunger for this type of content has opened doors for other filmmakers to step through. We’ve been seeing movies like this on screen. We hope more are coming. We recently merged our company [Lightworkers Media] with MGM and we are really excited about this partnership. We think it will allow us to have a greater outreach and impact and to help bring this kind of story alive to all kinds of platforms. It is the kind of film you really want to share with others.
On creating stories of faith in a world that is more than ever hostile toward Christianity, Downey says, “Our mission is that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. We’re going to keep creating television that shines a light into what can be a very dark world.”
Woodlawn currently has an 83 percent rating on the film review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.
Variety film critic Joe Leydon wrote in his review of Woodlawn that the film “could very well appeal beyond the usual target audience for faith-based indies.”
Leydon added, “the overall narrative mix of history lesson, gridiron action and spiritual uplift is effectively and satisfyingly sustained.”
The film is now available in nationwide retail stores, Christian bookstores, and online.
Watch a trailer for Woodlawn below: