Filmed in Newnan
Civil rights movie to premiere in September
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Editor’s note: The issue of USA Weekend in today’s edition of The Newnan Times-Herald features a piece for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Civil Rights historian Taylor Branch reflects on America's progress — and what still needs to be done.
"The Watsons Go to Birmingham," which includes several scenes filmed in Newnan, will premiere in September on The Hallmark Channel.
Based on the award-winning juvenile book "The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963," the movie chronicles the journey of the Watson family travelling from their home in Flint, Michigan, to Birmingham in hopes of turning around their budding juvenile-delinquent son, Byron. Byron’s parents hope some time with his no-nonsense grandmother will do the trick.
The trip turns out to be a lot more than they expected, as Birmingham is in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. Protests break out and are brutally quelled. At the end of the summer, the Watsons are caught up in one of the pivotal events of the Civil Rights movement — the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four girls.
The film is narrated by Kenny, the middle child of the Watson family.
Newnan Presbyterian Church, which bears a striking resemblance to 16th Street Baptist, was used in filming. A set was built on Perry Street, at the front of the Coweta Administration Building, serving as the church in the aftermath of the bombing.
“It’s amazing. What a find that was for us,” said Executive Producer Tonya Lewis Lee in reference to Newnan Presbyterian. Lee, wife of Spike Lee, wrote the screenplay for the film.
“We kind of stumbled upon [Newnan] at the last minute, but it really has proven to be a great find and, I think, a wonderful substitute for us for Birmingham," Lee said.
The filming took place in late April, with additional scenes from the movie being filmed at the original Sprayberry's barbecue restaurant on Jackson Street and on sidewalks in downtown Newnan.
"The Watsons Go to Birmingham" is directed by Tony Award nominee Kenny Leon, and stars David Alan Grier, Anika Noni Rose, Skai Jackson, LaTanya Richardson, Wood Harris, Bryce Jenkins and Harrison Knight.
The movie is part of Hallmark's new Walden Family Theater, Friday night series. Walden Family Theater is a collaboration of award-winning family entertainment producer Walden Media ("The Chronicles of Narnia," "The Bridge to Terabithia," "Holes") fast-growing independent studio ARC Entertainment, Walmart, and Proctor and Gamble, and is designed to help fill the void on TV for quality family entertainment.