Woodlawn

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Woodlawn Movie Poster Image
Heartwarming fact-based drama about faith, race, football.
  • PG
  • 2015
  • 123 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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

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.

Sex

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.

Language

"Coloreds," "Negroes," and "boy" are used pejoratively toward African Americans. One black student calls whites "crackers."

Consumerism
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.

What 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.

User Reviews

Parent Written byibrad February 5, 2016

Great Movie

I don't recall seeing this movie advertised for the box office, but it was a great movie and good message. We didn't rent it bc we were interested in... Continue reading
Adult Written bymattie25 April 2, 2016
Teen, 16 years old Written byDrSoup007 January 20, 2016

By the books, offering nothing of note only being bogged down by a forced religious message

While it has good heart and a potentially necessary message it wants to give, it gets itself bogged down by trying to tackle and return relevance to one to many... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bykggirl777 September 28, 2016

Good Christian Movie

I really enjoyed this movie with my parents. Although I don't think it's appropriate for the 13 and under crowd. There are some sensitive subjects and... Continue reading

What's the story?

In 1973, newly desegregated Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama, had its first black football players -- like Tony Nathan (Caleb Castille), a gifted running back. Viewers are introduced to Tony, Coach Tandy Gerelds (Nic Bishop), and Hank Erwin (Sean Astin), a sports chaplain affiliated with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes who wants to work with the team to inspire them to "come to Jesus." Hank shows up and asks Coach Gerelds for time to speak to the team; Gerelds gives him five minutes, and when he returns to the gym an hour later, Hank is still there and has miraculously converted nearly the entire team to evangelical Christianity. Newly rededicated to their faith, the team transforms into a true brotherhood, putting their friendships -- and their football -- above racial differences. Inspired by his team, Gerelds also professes his faith, and the team, still guided by Hank, works together to play for the glory of God.

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether faith-based movies appeal to viewers who don't share that faith. Who do you think is the intended audience? Can others enjoy them?

  • How does Woodlawn portray the racism and segregation of the era it takes place in? Do you consider this a civil rights film or a sports film?

  • How are sports and faith related in this movie? Do you think public school coaches and teams should allow or encourage religious activity on a sports team the way Woodlawn did?

  • How accurate do you think the move is to the actual events that inspired it? Why might filmmakers decide to make changes to real events?

  • Some critics have said the movie focuses too much on the experiences of the white coach/chaplain and too little on the African-American players. Do you agree?

Movie details

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