A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Messages about racial reconciliation and oneness in a shared faith. Promotes the idea that if you pray and dedicate yourself to God with your talents, you'll succeed. By seeing others as brothers and sisters, racial differences fall away and are replaced by love and understanding.
Positive Role Models
The coach and sports chaplain take their jobs seriously and try to get the players to relate as a team and see beyond their race. The players inspire the coach with their faith. Tony's parents are supportive and loving. Tony sticks to his morals (he politely declines to take a promotional photo with the racist, segregationist governor).
Violence & Scariness
Opens with footage of racial violence in Jim Crow Birmingham (text explains that Birmingham used to be nicknamed "Bombingham"). Skirmishes in front of a school that's trying to integrate. Someone throws a brick at an African-American family's home; it almost hits the youngest child. A cross is burned in his front yard. A fight involving knives leaves kids hospitalized; one is shown on a stretcher. A girl has a bruise that implies she's being abused at home.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Quick kisses between couples. A mother makes a joke about fattening up her son's girlfriend so she can "birth her grandbabies." A father calls his daughter "trash," presumably because of her reputation.
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"Coloreds," "Negroes," and "boy" are used pejoratively toward African Americans. One black student calls whites "crackers."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
An adult says he's going to smoke a cigarette to blow off steam (it's not shown on camera); another adult holds a bottle in a paper bag.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Woodlawn is a faith-based drama inspired by true events at a Birmingham, Alabama, high school in 1973. The movie focuses on how a sports chaplain helped convert nearly the entire Woodlawn High School football team to born-again Christianity after it was desegregated, helping the players deal with racial strife on and off the field. Part football drama, part evangelical success story, Woodlawn does have serious themes and moments, but they're generally not as heavy as similar scenes in Selma or other secular films about the era. There's no use of the "N" word (as would have been commonplace at the time), but white men do say "colored," "boy," and "Negro" several times, and scenes of violence against African Americans include a brick thrown at a house, footage of bombings and burnings, and fist fights resulting in a student being taken to the hospital. Viewers who aren't Christians or who don't go to church should know that there are clear messages that believing in Jesus is the one right way to live a meaningful life. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Although this isn't a Selma-like retelling of civil rights history, for what it is -- a "by Christians, for Christians" sports drama set in racially charged 1973 Birmingham -- it's executed well. Unlike some faith-based films that have a shoestring budget and seem to employ only a couple of trained actors, WOODLAWN has high production values and a professional cast of talented actors. From Austin and Bishop (an Aussie best known for his primetime TV work on Dominion, Covert Affairs, and Body of Proof) to newcomer Castille and Jon Voight as legendary University of Alabama coach Bear Bryant, there's no shortage of talent in the cast.
As a labor of love for directors/brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin, whose father is the sports chaplain Astin portrays, Woodlawn mixes exciting football sequences with a rather idealized depiction of the team (only one player and his dad refuse to get on board with the conversion and the integration). The directors stay away from edgier aspects of the time's racial divide, although they include a scary scene in which a brick nearly misses Tony's little brother, as well as a brawl outside the high school. One of the most evocative scenes is when Tony refuses to shake the hand of (and take a publicity photo with) Governor George Wallace, who opposed integration. But again, Woodlawn is less about civil rights and more about the height of the Jesus Movement of the early '70s -- and how one team, black and white, played football for their Lord.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.