Movie Review: Woodlawn
Patricia L. Dickson
The movie Woodlawn is an Erwin Brothers Film that depicts real life events that took place in Alabama during the early 1970s at the height of desegregation. Historical footage from Governor George Wallace’s impassioned segregation forever speech played during the first minutes of the movie as well as parts of speeches from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The movie is based on the struggles of the newly desegregated football team of Woodlawn High School in Alabama. The coach, played by Nic Bishop (ABC’s “Body of Proof”), is task with trying to turn a losing team into a winning team while struggling to calm the racial tension between the white and black players.
After witnessing the constant fighting between the black and white players, a Chaplain, played by Sean Astin (“Rudy” and “The Lord of the Rings”), asked the coach if he could speak to the team. Reluctantly the coach agreed. The Chaplain straight out preached the Gospel with no holds barred and invited the players to accept Jesus Christ as an alternative to the hate that dwelt in their hearts towards each other. Several of the players went forward and professed their faith at the end of his sermon. The coach was astounded at the change that he began to witness in his players, yet he did not immediately grasp the Christian faith that warranted such a drastic change.
The main character in the movie was a black running back named Tony Nathan played by Caleb Castille (feature film debut). As he began to become a popular player on the once segregated football team, he and his family were constantly harassed by local white men in town who did not like the fact the he (a black kid) was getting more play time than their sons. The climax of the movie was when Paul “Bear” Bryant played by Jon Voight (no introduction needed), took an interest in Tony Nathan and began attempting to recruit him to play for the University of Alabama, coupled with the 1974 historical football game between Woodlawn and Banks played at Legion Field in Birmingham.
The movie’s main theme is the team deciding to change their focus from winning games to playing for a higher cause (depicted in the movie poster with the index finger pointing upward) of Jesus Christ. It was when their focus and commitment (collectively as a team) turned to Christ, that they started to win. The coach eventually attended Tony Nathan’s (his star player’s) church and got baptized and began praying with his team before games. He was reprimanded by the school’s superintendent and told not to pray anymore before the games. He disobeyed. Tony Nathan went on to play for the University of Alabama and nine NFL seasons with The Dolphins.
If you like history and desire to see a faith based good family movie, Woodlawn will truly warm your heart. This is a movie for everyone.