Strongly centered in a biblical worldview
|Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance|
|Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships|
|Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations|
|Family Viewing Suitability|
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Directed by the acclaimed Christian filmmaking team of brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin (MOM’S NIGHT OUT, OCTOBER BABY), WOODLAWN tells the inspiring, true story of Birmingham, Alabama’s Woodlawn High School football team as it adapts to the challenges of government-mandated desegregation in 1973. With violence and anger erupting across the city, star player Tony Nathan (Caleb Castille) finds himself under the leadership of coach Tandy Gerelds (Nic Bishop), who brings in an outsider named Hank (Sean Astin) to speak to the team and calm racial tensions. Hank’s “Jesus Movement” message of Christian hope and love fuels a spiritual revival that sparks Nathan and the team to lead the school and community to overcome the fear and hate that threatens to tear the city apart.
Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance
At its core, WOODLAWN is about spiritual revival—a hope that many faith-driven moviegoers long for in today’s increasingly secular society. Front and center to the narrative is the very relevant biblical call to make the most of the gifts and time we’ve been given—all while courageously carrying out the mandate to be ambassadors of love, reconciliation and unity. When Tony and his teammates and coaches respond positively to a clear Gospel message presented by Hank, a beautiful picture of what happens when God shows up and His people come together to pray and repent is depicted in WOODLAWN. Here—in a tumultuous time of racism and hate—they stand up for God and become catalysts for righteous transformation in their families, schools and community.
Other strong biblical themes in WOODLAWN include loving one’s enemies and glorifying God through the crucible of adversity and testing of faith. And keying off of the biblical truth that people perish without hope, Tony is motivated to play for something bigger than himself and share the hope he has in Jesus with the world.
Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships
Throughout WOODLAWN there is a consistent depiction of faith-compatible characters and relationships. Starting with Tony’s family, his relationship with his father and mother is loving and respectful. His parents instill the importance of attending church into Tony and his girlfriend, Johnnie (Joy Brunson), and they model a strong marriage—even sweetly holding hands during a church sermon. Here, Tony’s father is a godly man who tells Tony he’s proud of him—win or lose—and encourages his son to live from his heart. He reminds Tony that he has a powerful gift that he must choose to steward well. And in a relationship depicted with depth and emotional range, Tony and headstrong Johnnie go through challenges that foster maturity—particularly as Tony moves from shy and fearful to strong and protective of Johnny in the face of abuse by alcoholic father.
Shifting focus to the football team, Hank, who has become the de facto chaplain of the Woodlawn High team, encourages Tony in his faith and tells him that God has a purpose for everyone—including him—and it is not insignificant. Here, Tony’s relationship with his new football coach is a bit more complicated until Tandy himself becomes a Christian. By the time Tony is a college star playing for the national championship, Tandy’s relationship with Tony is akin to that of a father and son. And with his own son, Tandy humbly apologizes for being so distracted—making amends by pouring himself more fully into their father-son relationship.
In perhaps the most powerful relationship depicted in WOODLAWN, legendary University of Alabama coach Bear Bryant (Jon Voight) recruits Tony to play on the school’s first integrated team. Here, Bryant—resolutely driven by his faith and showing that he could have just as easily been a pastor—boldly crosses racial barriers and prays, holds hands with, and eats a meal with the Nathan family.
Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations
Spanning the challenging historical setting of racial integration and two football seasons, WOODLAWN depicts a wide variety of situations in a faith-compatible way. Violence in the form of bombs, bullying, riots, burning buses and a burning cross on Tandy’s lawn are depicted with raw and powerful accuracy. In contrast, scenes pointing to God’s Spirit moving among the players, coaches, student and fans at not only Woodlawn High School but rival schools are inspirational. For example, after Hank shares the Gospel with the team, all but three players step forward to accept Christ. And students are shown in an interracial Bible study while player-led prayer takes place on and off the football field. In one pep rally, the Gospel is shared and the name of Jesus is proclaimed above all names. By Tony’s senior season, spiritual revival in Birmingham has taken hold to the degree that rival teams practice together—prompting skepticism from the media and anger in some parents, who pressure the school district to reign in open displays of Christian faith in the public school setting.
Beyond the schools, multiple faith-compatible situations are depicted in churches—with sermons by Tony’s preacher (DeVon Franklin), who encourages his flock to run the good race and not keep the good gifts God gives us wrapped up. Here, in one of the most stirring scenes of the movie, Tandy shows up at this church with his wife to confess his sins and asks to be baptized.
Both on and off the football field, Tandy’s new-found faith is tested and he bravely resists cultural pressure to start Tony in games—later standing beside his all-star player at a racially charged awards banquet attended by Governor George Wallace. And when the big rivalry week game rolls around, Tandy leads the team in the Lord’s Prayer before pulling an injured Tony from the game because his health is more important than winning the game.
Family Viewing Suitability
At 123 minutes in length, WOODLAWN is rated PG for thematic elements, including some racial tension and violence. Given this, it’s a family-friendly film with parental guidance. Its hopeful message of spiritual revival, forgiveness, reconciliation and transformation are at the core of the Christian faith and will resonate with young and old alike. In today’s American culture with increased racial tension and affinity group divisions, WOODLAWN reminds moviegoers that the only hope we have individually and collectively is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
WOODLAWN offers high production values, a solid script, and very capable cast. Here, Caleb Castille shines as Tony and Nic Bishop’s delivers a strong performance as Tandy. And Jon Voight’s portrayal of Coach Bear Bryant is spot-on. And while some may be confused about the sudden shift at the end in which Tandy appears to have been fired from his coaching role, this uneven handling redirects focus from winning footballs games to where it belongs—on God’s larger purposes in lives and communities.
With its themes of prayer, forgiveness and reconciliation, WOODLAWN is a powerful film that depicts a broken world being transformed and unified by God’s power—but only when people repent and allow God to show up. Although WOODLAWN serves as a clarion call to today’s generation for revival, its inspiring and hopeful Christian message of racial reconciliation and unity will likely appeal to both faith-driven and secular audiences alike.