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Arts and Entertainment

TV movie focuses on 1963 bombing
'The Watsons go to Birmingham' debuts on Hallmark
Published Thursday, September 19, 2013 8:12 am
by Ebony Shamberger

A novel-turned-TV film will educate students about a pivotal incident in the Civil Rights Movement.

"The Watsons go to Birmingham," which focuses on the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, premieres Sept. 20 on Hallmark Channel.

"The Watsons go to Birmingham" will premiere Sept. 20 on the Hallmark Channel.

After attending a screening at the Alabama Theater last week, T. Marie King tweeted: "[The movie] brought tears to my eyes. Every classroom needs this film."

That's one place scriptwriter and co-producer Tonya Lewis Lee, wife of director Spike Lee, hopes the film will be shown.

"I do hope that, with the film out, young people will read the book and watch the film," said Lewis Lee. Her goal is to educate viewers and encourage teachers to push students to "use their voices like the people in the Crusades used their voices."

On Sept. 15, 1963, four girls were killed during a Ku Klux Klan terrorism bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. The film is dedicated to those girls: Denis McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins.

Despite the KKK's involvement in the bombing, viewers will not see white-hooded men in the film. Lewis Lee said she did not present these images because so many issues were already present.

"I was concerned that the film be watchable and not too heavy-handed in the situation," she said. "Young kids can watch it and not feeling afraid."

Kathy Agate, a teacher at Winding Springs Elementary, is aware of the historical importance of the event and has used the film-inspired book to teach her fifth graders. She says it is a great educational tool.

"By discussing [the book] with their peers they come out of their shell," said Agate, who has taught the book for five years. "Sometimes you kind of align yourself with the character in the story."

She said that her students tend to relate to Kenny, the 10-year-old narrator. In the story, Kenny tells how his family goes to Birmingham during his parents' (Anika Noni Rose and David Alan Grier) attempt to have his brother, Byron, chastised by Grandma Sands (LaTanya Richardson). The trip ends with the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which not only horrifies Kenny, but also teaches Byron the importance of family.

"Just seeing how that event could impact a child and just crushing them emotionally, it was like wow," said Alabama Theater screening attendee T. Marie King.

"That kind of jumped out," she said, "because there is kind of a disconnect now with our young people really understanding what that meant -- those events of the ‘60s. I really felt like, dang, a lot of kids need to see this to really understand what this movement was about."

That’s why Agate, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher, plans to record the premier and share it with other instructors. She also plans to continue class activities, such as journaling about the Civil Right Movement, to further expound upon the book's message.

A message that evokes emotion.

"I would encourage every parent to sit down and watch that film with their child, said King, "and not just watch it, but have a discussion with them after it."

She continued: "I heard a lot of snifflies in the crowd so i know i wasn't crying by myself.  

I really enjoyed it."


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