This one is of particular interest to Michigan people: Tapping into his Flint roots, Christopher Paul Curtis has created award-winning books; now one of them will be a cable movie Friday. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
It’s been a long trip, taking the Watsons from Flint to
Alabama to our TV sets.
Fictionally, the trip started in 1963. As literature, it began
in 1995; the TV idea began a few years later.
“It’s been a 10-year journey,” producer Tonya Lewis Lee
said. “We have pitched it to many places.”
They found an unlikely one: “The Watsons Go to Birmingham”
debuts Friday on the Hallmark Channel.
Hallmark is a feel-good channel, as cheery as a birthday
card; is this any place for a story with a civil-rights theme? “’The Watsons’
is first and foremost a film about a family,” said producer Nikki Silver.
In this case, the family’s journey south accidentally
collides with the last stand of segregation. And the story represents a giant
journey for its Michigan author.
Christopher Paul Curtis grew up in Flint, with blue-collar
roots. For 13 years, he worked in an auto plant, just as his dad did. But there
were other influences: His mom was an educator, one grandfather was a bandleader,
the other was a Negro Baseball League pitcher.
So Curtis grew up with an artistic side. Fresh from high
school, he was in the Lansing-based Suitcase Theatre. At the auto plant, he
wrote during breaks. Later, after working in Windsor, he took a year off and
wrote “Watsons” by longhand in the Windsor library.
The result won a Newbery Honor, one of the highest prizes
for children’s literature. (Curtis would go on to win the top prize, a Newbery
Award, for “Bud, Not Buddy.”) The New York Times listed it as one of the year’s
100 best books, the only children’s book on the list.
Curtis, 60, is now a fulltime author and speaker, living in
the Detroit area. The notion of filming his book was boosted by timing, Silver
said. Hallmark has started a Friday-family-film project with Walden Media and
others; key dates arrived this year. “It’s the 50th anniversary of
the march on Washington, the 50th anniversary of the (Birmingham)
church bombing …. Maybe it was just meant to be.”
The film drew some top people, including director Kenny Leon
(who made the TV versions of “Steel Magnolias” and “A Raisin in the Sun”) and
Tony-winner Anika Noni Rose. It also had some quirks:
There is a key Michigan man in the cast (David
Alan Grier of Detroit), but he plays a Southerner.
thing was shot in Atlanta, including scenes of a frigid Flint winter. “I
thought we did a pretty good job … on an 80-degree day,” Leon said.
What emerged, he said, is a film about heroics. “Ultimately,
this is a film about love. It’s about family love and … loving and embracing
“The Watsons Go to Birmingham,” 8-10 p.m.
Repeats at the same time a week later.