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Tonya Lewis Lee, Kenny Leon Teaming To Adapt ‘The Watsons Go to Birmingham’

Tonya Lewis Lee, Kenny Leon Teaming To Adapt 'The Watsons Go to Birmingham'

Showbiz411 is reporting exclusively that Tonya Lewis Lee, wife of director Spike Lee, will be putting her producer hat on to develop a film adaptation of a historical fiction novel called The Watsons Go to Birmingham, and she’s tapped Kenny Leon (primarily a stage director, although he directed Lifetime’s Steel Magnolias remake) to direct.

To be co-produced by Nikki Silver, The Watsos 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.

When Kenny Watson’s brother, Byron, gets to be too much trouble, the Watson family heads south to Birmingham to visit Grandma, the one person who can shape him up. And they happen to be in Birmingham when Grandma’s church is bombed.

The bombing of course was that 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 Curtis’ first novel, and it received a Newbery Honor, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Golden Kite Award.

Anyone read it? By all accounts, it’s supposed to good.

Shooting is set to begin this month, although no word on who’s been cast yet.

A casting call went out about a month ago for the key characters in the film, so I really don’t see how shooting can begin this month with casting seemingly only recently beginning. 

No word on the name of the writer who’s adapting the novel either.

This certainly won’t be the first time that Mrs Lee has dabbled in film (or TV) production. With Kenny Leon directing, it might be a made-for-tv movie.

Stay tuned…

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The film will air on Hallmark later this year.


Sigh. Kenny Leon is not a good director, of stage or screen, but it's nice that this project is getting made.

Geneva Girl

I forgot to add that there is a built-in audience for this book as this book is a popular choice for middle school summer reading lists. So, not only are kids familiar with it, their parents are as well. Think of all of the class trip possibilities. It should be a cross-over hit.

Will it be a big or small screen film?

Geneva Girl

YES!!! YES!!! YES!!! I'm exited!

My family loves this book and have waited years for a movie adaptation. We love listening the audiobook read by LaVar Burton. I'd love to see him as the dad, but he's a bit too old for the part now.

They best not mess up this beloved book! I hope that if this is a success that they'll bring Bud, Not Buddy to the screen as well.

Ashleigh Bivins

Love this book! Just finished it with my 5th grade class last week!!


I remember that movie! Excited to see it become a movie.

kid video

As a Birmingham resident, This project should have gotten greenlit last year to coincide with this years 50th anniversary of the protest marches…hope they can get it out this year.

Angela Davis spoke at a church this past Saturday also…

Some scenes for the Jackie Robinson film were also shot in town…Rickwood Field and The Alabama Theather.

Justin W

I remember reading this book when I was in middle school. I really enjoyed it. It had it comedic parts and its sad parts.

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