My thoughts on the movie “Woodlawn”

Note #1: It is not my intent to offend or anger anyone with this post. If you are offended or angered, I’m sorry. Let me know by commenting, and we can talk about it. Thank you.

Note #2: This reply of mine to a comment should help smooth over inconsistencies in this post. (I’ve been working on this post for days, and will continue to make edits accordingly. Hence why even though there is only one “edit” so far, the edit is numbered.) I recommend reading the reply and edit #1 after reading the post itself. To read the post, scroll down.

The reply:

I hope that the people who go to see “Woodlawn” enjoy it. After all: Nobody likes walking out of a movie feeling like they wasted their time.

From a technical standpoint — acting, cinematography, special effects, screenplay — “Woodlawn” looks good.

My criticism of “Woodlawn” — the reason I am antagonistic towards the movie — boils down to this: The creators of “Woodlawn” want people to come back to church because of this movie. The creators want the movie spark a new Jesus Movement. The creators want the movie to make over 100 million dollars at the box office. And I don’t see that happening.

Have you ever watched someone do something the wrong way, but been unable to do anything about it? Such a feeling of helplessness is maddening. That is how I feel about “Woodlawn.”

I want “Woodlawn” to succeed — I want the movie to lead people to Jesus, I want people to be entertained by it, I want the movie to do blockbuster numbers at the box office, and I want the movie to earn a “Fresh” rating on http://www.rottentomatoes.com — but from everything I have seen of the movie so far, I don’t see that happening. If I am proven wrong, I will be glad, and I will gladly take back every negative thing I said about the movie.

If “Woodlawn” bombs — critically and/or financially — I won’t be upset though, because of the four reasons I brought up in the post.

When I say “Woodlawn” is “preachy,” this is what I mean:

The creators of the movie made up that scene where the chaplain is talking to the crowd while they hold candles. That scene is based off of an event that former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee went to when he was younger. Such a move by the filmmakers, for me, turns “Woodlawn” from art to propaganda.

“Propaganda” is a strong word to describe “Woodlawn,” but here is why I think it is accurate:

The definition of the word “Propaganda” is: “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.”

That scene in “Woodlawn,” with the chaplain and the candles, is in the movie for no other reason than to “…promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” In this case, the “…cause or point of view…” is the Jesus Movement.

In YouTube videos promoting the movie, the creators of “Woodlawn” have said this is true.

Edit #1: In the post I say that I hope that Woodlawn isn’t successful because, from everything I’ve seen, I don’t consider it “…excellent or praiseworthy…” In the post, and in Edit #1, I explain why I think this. But, I’d like to go into more detail: I hope people who buy tickets to see Woodlawn like it. I want Woodlawn to be a good movie. I have a passion for movies. I don’t want to ever come across like I’m rooting for a movie to fail. There are aspects of Woodlawn I like, like the acting and special effects. It’s just that, ultimately, I think Woodlawn will alienate people who aren’t church-going Christians, and thus I don’t want the movie to be a success.

I know it sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but this is my thought process:

Thought #1. I want Woodlawn to be a good movie.

Thought #2. If you go to see Woodlawn and you like the movie, than more power to you: I’m not out to try and tell people “You can’t like this.” As the saying goes: “Different strokes for different folks.” (Different things appeal to different people.)

Thought #3. Judging by all the previews I have seen, Woodlawn is not a good movie.

Thought #4. If I see Woodlawn for myself and I like it, or if the majority of audience members and critics like it (if it gets a “Fresh” rating on http://www.rottentomatoes.com), than I will gladly take back every negative thing I said about the movie.

Thought #5. Until then, judging Woodlawn only by the previews, I don’t want the movie to be a success: I don’t want the movie to break even.

Thought #6. The reason why I don’t want Woodlawn to be a success is because I think that it will alienate people who aren’t church-going Christians.

Thought #7. I am not judging Woodlawn as the movie it is. I am judging Woodlawn as the movie that I think it will be: A movie that alienates people who aren’t church-going Christians.

*Phew*

Okay. Now that you know exactly where I’m coming from: Here’s the post itself — my thoughts on Woodlawn.

The post:

According to Jon Erwin, the co-director of Woodlawn, Woodlawn is going to (hopefully) be the first “Christian blockbuster” — a blockbuster movie with an overt Christian worldview. (In this case, “blockbuster” means a movie that makes more than $100 million at the box office.)

Four things I’ve taken away from all the previews and clips I’ve seen of the movie:

  1. The movie has an identity crisis. In a video which I will provide below (Woodlawn Keynote: This Is Our Time), Jon Erwin talks about how nowadays young people are leaving the church. (Watch 0:00 — 0:51.) Jon Erwin hopes that Woodlawn will inspire young people to come back to the church. (Watch 14:52 — 18:13.) I have no objection to that goal. What I object to is how Woodlawn, from all the previews I’ve seen, goes about trying to do that. To cut to the chase: Woodlawn preaches to the choir. Woodlawn‘s message is the same message that those young people leaving the church would hear from the pulpit: Accept Jesus as your lord and savior and live how he asks you to live. Who is this movie for? People who have left the church probably won’t like it because it tells them what they would hear if they went back. (I’ll go more into this in point #3.) For people who haven’t left the church, this movie is going to tell them what they already believe to be true: It’s not going to challenge them. At least one scene even takes place in a church, with the pastor preaching to his congregation.

    When I watch this scene, I feel like I’m at a Sunday morning service, not out with my friends on a Friday night watching a movie.
  2. I’ve seen this kind of movie before. Why would I watch Woodlawn when I could watch Remember the Titans, The Blind Side, or Friday Night Lights instead? A football movie with a Christian worldview? The Blind Side has already done it. A football movie about how the sport helps a community overcome division? Remember the Titans has already done it. A football movie about players’ desire to unlock their full potential and make their loved ones proud? Friday Night Lights has already done it.
  3. The movie is preachy. Going back to what I said earlier: At least one scene takes place in a church. And I know of at least two scenes involving a chaplain — one in a gym, one on the football field — exhorting those in attendance to let Jesus into their lives.

    Church-going Christians won’t mind scenes such as these. But what about people who have left the church? Do such scenes give these people whatever it is they are seeking? (“Whatever it is they are seeking” being something that they feel they need to leave the church in order to find.) And what about people who aren’t Christians, or who aren’t religious? I imagine they’re not going to like Woodlawn. Woodlawn has an identity crisis because the makers have made it clear that they want the movie to be a blockbuster, but don’t realize that blockbusters aren’t aimed at a niche audience. (The “niche audience” in this case being Christians — church-going or not.)

  4. Failure will force the Erwin Brothers to try harder. There are so many Christian movies that center around football that, to me, it’s now a cliche. Woodlawn is yet another movie that does this. I haven’t seen Mom’s Night Out — another Erwin Brothers movie — or Believe Me (both comedies) but why can’t we have more movies like those? Movies that try something different. That take risks. If Woodlawn bombs, I hope the Erwin Brothers will say to themselves “Well, that didn’t work,” and go back to telling unorthodox stories.

A nitpick: For a movie that is about the “undeniable true story” of what happened at Woodlawn in 1973, the filmmakers had no qualms with making changes to that story. Check this out:

Then check this out:

Erwin Brothers: Does an “undeniable true story” not offer enough material for a feature-length movie? I know changes are made all the time to true stories that get made into movies. But I would think that there would be no shortage of film-able material for a story that took place in the United States less than 50 years ago: firsthand and secondhand accounts of the events at Woodlawn shouldn’t (I imagine) be too hard to come by, and thus you should have enough material to make a feature-length movie. Also: Is Woodlawn (the movie) a story about Woodlawn (the high school)? Or is Woodlawn a story about the Jesus Movement? I’m confused…

It’s possible that Woodlawn will be as successful as its makers want it to be. But it won’t surprise me if it isn’t. And, I’m hoping that it isn’t.*

The reason I’m hoping that Woodlawn isn’t successful is because the Bible tells us “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”** And from everything I have seen of Woodlawn so far, the movie is not “excellent or praiseworthy.”


Woodlawn preaches to the choir with a story that I have heard told better time and time again. Christians — church-going or not — deserve better movies.

Here are examples of “better movies.” Movies that will inspire, affect, and entertain Christians and non-Christians alike, of all ages:

First, for football fans, we have The Blind Side, Remember the Titans, and Friday Night Lights.

Then we have:

  1. Whisper of the Heart.
  2. The Secret World of Arrietty.
  3. 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  4. Godzilla. (The 2014 version.)
  5. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  6. The Book of Eli.
  7. Up.
  8. The original Star Wars trilogy.
  9. Harry Potter.
  10. The Lord of the Rings.
  11. The Incredibles.
  12. The Avengers.
  13. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
  14. Iron Man.
  15. Noah.
  16. A Scanner Darkly.
  17. Inception.

I could go on.

My point with listing those movies is this: Goodness, truth, and beauty can come from anywhere — even from non-Christians. If you don’t believe me, watch 0:40 — 1:50:

(For my analysis of this scene, click Here.)

*If Woodlawn has the effect that its makers want it to have — leading people to Jesus — then I will shout for joy from the rooftops. I have heard stories of people deciding to follow Jesus after seeing Woodlawn. But the reason I’m so antagonistic towards Woodlawn — the reason I won’t shout for joy from the rooftops yet — is because I don’t think it will have that effect to the extent that its makers want. Remember: The makers of Woodlawn are aiming for a box office gross of at least 100 million dollars. On a side note: I can imagine what the response from the makers of Woodlawn will be if the movie is panned by critics: “We’re being persecuted.”

**Philippians 4:8.

Note #3: I have been blocked from the Woodlawn Facebook page because I explained to one of the fans of the movie why the movie had a PG rating. My comment was deleted — why, I do not know — and so I commented again, explaining to this person the reason Woodlawn was rated PG (for violence). Soon after, I was blocked from the page. No explanation given by the page, either. I can understand the rationale for me being blocked: The Woodlawn people didn’t want me doing their job for them and potentially scaring away customers. That, and the fact that for approximately a week I continually suggested other movies that people would like in addition to Woodlawn, as well as the fact that I let people know of my worries for the movie: that Woodlawn wouldn’t appeal to people who weren’t church-going Christians. But. What makes my blood boil is censorship. That is, I believe, what has happened in this case. The Woodlawn Facebook page has censored me because I said something — I don’t know what — that they didn’t agree with. The fact that it happened all of a sudden — without a warning, a “Please don’t do that,” or a “What are you trying to accomplish with your comments?” — is what makes me angry. I hate that. It is blatant un-Christian behavior. Blatant hypocrisy.

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2 thoughts on “My thoughts on the movie “Woodlawn”

  1. In this generation of entertainment goers we realize all creative art will be debated from an angle of preference even by the choir. Respectfully, I believe that is what I am reading in your review. In turn, I believe this picture’s message can have a major impact because it already has. Here are some things I just can not agree with you on in your review.
    -First I have seen this movie and I believe it is an amazing film. I personally have spoken to people that know the true story of Woodlawn as they have grew up in Birmingham during this time and even graduated at Woodlawn. The true impacting story that goes beyond the wins and loses. Those people say it did more than impact the local school as it also changed the city and even the local colleges.
    -The above stated is why this is different then Remember the Titans (also one of my favs). Remember the Titans in my observation impacted their school but Woodlawn historically appears to have gone beyond local ties as it also impacted their chief rival team. I also believe by the end of Woodlawn you see that it is a great movie no matter who wins. Remember the Titans as great as it is becomes heavily weighted to everything hinging on them winning the final game. The message of Woodlawn goes beyond the home field it goes to the visitors field too!
    -REVIVAL – Just to be accurate, revival is about bringing the believers to life. So, you have to speak to believers to (hence the church scene) to get them to rise up. That is when God multiplies and that is what happened in Woodlawn. New salvations and present believers together rose up to let God take over.
    -Preachy- ??? I don’t even really know how to respond to that when it is really to me just trying to make sure the message is clear. No you won’t please everyone, especially those that have left the church. Just realize we love all those in church and out but not everyone that has left is a victim to those that have been in the church. Do you think Passion of the Christ was preachy?
    -This quote – ????????????? What?????
    “It’s possible that Woodlawn will be as successful as its makers want it to be. But it won’t surprise me if it isn’t. And, I’m hoping that it isn’t.*” (what?)
    “The reason I’m hoping that Woodlawn isn’t successful is because the Bible tells us “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”** And from everything I have seen of Woodlawn so far, the movie is not “excellent or praiseworthy.”

    Yet you said here that you WANT PEOPLE TO LIKE (at least in the facebook post)the film. This saddens me because this is mostly a negative take on the film for all the world to see and I don’t even know if you know what you may want to think about this (I could be wrong but that is the impression). Honestly on any other movie I probably would have quit reading right there once I saw these two opposites in your statements.
    -The list of movies that inspire (no. 1 – 17)- Nope for me, most of those were popcorn flicks and good entertainment movies (Avengers compared to this movie for inspiration?). Noah….talking about getting a movie that is not accurate with the true story. Plus, none of those were true stories where the true story inspired anyone to change (again I’m not counting Noah). The were all fiction and non other than
    -Last but not least…here is another inspiring story of Woodlawn. It would be worth your time to check it out. Powerful response!
    http://woodlawnmovie.com/blog/2015/10/02/125-athletes-accept-christ-at-fca-woodlawn-screening/

    Not hatin…just sayin……Believers find ways to encourage support this stuff rather than tear it down. The world tears down with negativity so easily, while we should be wise to not follow a cynical perspective. Years ago Christians were wanting better acting and production quality in their films. This movie has that and is heading in the right direction.

    God bless.

    1. Kevin,

      Thank you for commenting. You have given me much to think about.

      You are right: My thoughts on “Woodlawn” are confused. Since I haven’t seen the movie, I can only judge “Woodlawn” by the previews I’ve seen, and my thoughts on these are constantly in flux. (I’ve been making changes to this post for days.)

      That being said:

      I hope that the people who go to see “Woodlawn” enjoy it. After all: Nobody likes walking out of a movie feeling like they wasted their time.

      From a technical standpoint — acting, cinematography, special effects, screenplay — “Woodlawn” looks good.

      My criticism of “Woodlawn” — the reason I am antagonistic towards the movie — boils down to this: The creators of “Woodlawn” want people to come back to church because of this movie. The creators want the movie spark a new Jesus Movement. The creators want the movie to make over 100 million dollars at the box office. And I don’t see that happening.

      Have you ever watched someone do something the wrong way, but been unable to do anything about it? Such a feeling of helplessness is maddening. That is how I feel about “Woodlawn.”

      I want “Woodlawn” to succeed — I want the movie to lead people to Jesus, I want people to be entertained by it, I want the movie to do blockbuster numbers at the box office, and I want the movie to earn a “Fresh” rating on http://www.rottentomatoes.com — but from everything I have seen of movie so far, I don’t see that happening. If I am proven wrong, I will be glad, and I will gladly take back every negative thing I said about the movie.

      If “Woodlawn” bombs — critically and/or financially — I won’t be upset though, because of the four reasons I brought up in the post.

      When I say “Woodlawn” is “preachy,” this is what I mean:

      The creators of the movie made up that scene where the chaplain is talking to the crowd while they hold candles. That scene is based off of an event that former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee went to when he was younger. Such a move by the filmmakers, for me, turns “Woodlawn” from art to propaganda.

      “Propaganda” is a strong word to describe “Woodlawn,” but here is why I think it is accurate:

      The definition of the word “Propaganda” is: “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.”

      That scene in “Woodlawn,” with the chaplain and the candles, is in the movie for no other reason than to “…promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” In this case, the “…cause or point of view…” is the Jesus Movement.

      In YouTube videos promoting the movie, the creators of “Woodlawn” have said this is true.

      On another note:

      You are right: “The Avengers” is good entertainment, but not inspiring to extent that “Woodlawn” is.

      When I bring up that list of movies, I say that these 17 movies are ones that will “…inspire, affect, and entertain Christians and non-Christians alike, of all ages…” And I stand by what I said. Not all of these 17 movies are entertaining — some are meant to inspire, or to affect (make you think, or feel emotions strongly). There are movies on the list that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. But some (like “A Scanner Darkly”) are meant for adults.

      Thank you again for commenting. I enjoy talking with others about movies.

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