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FIRST-PERSON: See ‘Woodlawn,’ make a difference

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) — One of my seminary students asked me what turned out to be a most instructive question. “Dr. Land, if you had your life to live over and you couldn’t be a minister, what would you be?”

I thought about it for a few moments because I had never been asked that question before. I finally replied, “I would be a film director.”

All the students seemed surprised and asked me to elaborate. I told them that in the early 1960s I went to a matinee at the Santa Rosa movie theater on the Old Spanish Trail in Houston, Texas, and when I left the theater nearly three hours later, I was a different person than when I entered.

I had just seen the multi-Oscar-winning movie “Judgment at Nuremberg,” and it permanently enhanced my awareness of the incalculable value of every human life.

I learned that day that if a picture is worth a thousand words, a moving picture is worth a hundred thousand words. I am sure many of you can think of moments in a movie theater that expanded your perspective, altered your opinion or broke your heart.

A wonderful example of the power of film is the current movie “Woodlawn,” which has been in movie theaters for the past three weeks. Jon and Andrew Erwin directed this powerful film that tells the true story of how a biracial football team in Birmingham, Ala., at Woodlawn High School, (being forcibly integrated by court-mandated bussing), were reconciled to each other through almost the entire team making personal commitments to Christ.

The Erwin brothers’ father, Henry Eugene “Hank” Erwin Jr., served as the team’s chaplain during the 1973 and 1974 seasons portrayed in the movie. When the brothers were small boys and wanted a bedtime story, their father would enthrall them with the story of how a team’s commitment to Jesus helped transform a team and helped heal a racially divided city haunted by a dark, violent, racist past.

Among the heroes of this movie are Hank Erwin Jr., the chaplain whose life was transformed by the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s, and Woodlawn head coach Tandy Gerelds, a cynic and agnostic whose life is changed by witnessing the transformation that faith in Jesus brought about in his players, black and white.

The film culminates in a city championship football game at Legion Field in Birmingham that generated what is still the largest crowd yet to see a high school football game in Alabama.

Woodlawn is a great movie that powerfully illustrates the reconciling and transforming power of the Gospel in people’s lives and in a broken society. In the wake of Ferguson and Charleston, two of the latest flashpoints of racial violence and animosity across the nation, Woodlawn serves as a powerful and instructive reminder that Dr. King’s dream of a society in which you are judged not by the color of your skin, but by the content of your character is not dead and is still achievable through the reconciliation made a reality in Jesus Christ.

My wife and I have seen Woodlawn twice, and we are ready to see it again. Woodlawn brought in $4.3 million at the box office its opening weekend in mid-October, which ranked ninth in box office receipts for movies that weekend and received top scores from CinemaScore, a service consisting completely of audiences who had actually attended the move. It ranked 12th at the box office the second week (with $2.57 million in receipts), and 13th last weekend with $1.97 million in receipts. So far, Woodlawn has earned approximately $10.65 million at the box office.

This is a must-see movie for every Christian family, whether you like football or not. If you do like football, as I do, then that’s an added bonus.

In this culture the way that people make selections about what kind of movies are produced is that the more people vote with their pocketbooks and their feet to go see a movie, the more movies like this will be made. Now is the time to maximize your influence by taking your family, your friends and your acquaintances to see Woodlawn.

    About the Author

  • Richard Land

    Richard Land, D. Phil, is the Executive Editor of the Christian Post, having previously served as president of the ERLC (1988-2013) and president of Southern Evangelical Seminary (2013-2021). He also serves as the chairman of the advisory board at the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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