It was a week ago when we announced that Tonya Lewis Lee, wife of director Spike Lee, would be putting her producer hat on to develop a film adaptation of a historical fiction novel called The Watsons Go To Birmingham, and she’d tapped Kenny Leon (primarily a stage director, although he directed Lifetime’s Steel Magnolias remake) to direct the adaptation.
To be co-produced by Nikki Silver, The Watsons Go To Birmingham will adapt Christopher Paul Curtis’ 1995 novel which centers on an African American family living in the town of Flint, Michigan, who visit their grandmother’s home in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, a turbulent time during the civil rights movement.
Skip ahead a week later to news this morning, via press release from The Hallmark Channel, that production has officially begun on the film adaptation, in Atlanta, Georgia, for what will be a Hallmark Channel Original Movie, set to have its World Premiere on Friday, September 20 (8pm ET/PT, 7C), with a cast that includes: Anika Noni Rose, David Alan Grier, Skai Jackson, LaTanya Richardson, Wood Harris, Bryce Jenkins and Harrison Knight.
The script adaptation was actually written by Tonya Lewis Lee, so she’s wearing at least 2 hats on this project.
Here’s the full synopsis along with what characters each starring actor will play:
Set in the Summer of 1963, Flint, Michigan is home to the Watsons, a close knit “All American Family” made up of Daniel and Wilona Watson (Harris and Rose) and their three kids, 15 year-old juvenile delinquent Byron (Knight), nerdy 11 year-old Kenny (Jenkins) and eight year-old adorable sister Joetta (Jackson). When Byron’s antics go over the top, his parents realize enough is enough and they decide the family needs a dose of Grandma Sands (Richardson) no nonsense approach in Birmingham, Alabama.
So the Watsons load up the 1948 Plymouth Brown Bomber outfitted with a true tone Ultra-Glide turntable and head South with plenty of comedy en route. When they finally make it to Birmingham, they meet Grandma Sands and her friend, Mr. Robert (Grier), who show them around town, and the Watsons discover that life is very different there than in Flint – and not necessarily for the better. During that historic summer, the Watsons find themselves caught up in something far bigger than Byron’s antics. Something that will change their lives and country forever.
What they get “caught up in” is the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in September, 1963, which proved to be one of the pivotal events of that year in the fight for civil rights.
The book was Christopher Paul Curtis’ first novel, and it received a Newbery Honor, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Golden Kite Award.
The project is part of “Walmart and P&G Present Walden Family Theater,” a new series of family movies created by Walmart, P&G, Walden Media and ARC Entertainment.
The Watsons Go To Birmingham is produced by Walden Media, ARC Entertainment and Tonik Productions, LLC in association with WalMart and Procter & Gamble.
Many of you who’ve read the novel were excited for the adaptation, when it was announced last week. I’ve added it to my to-read pile of books, so hopefully I’ll get to it before September, when the film is scheduled to debut.
But, Kenny Leon aside (I’m not really high on him as a director), the cast is a relatively solid one, so, at the very least, it should be well-acted.