Part-time faculty member Stephen Glantz’s screenplay adaptation of The Watsons Go to Birmingham can help children better understand the civil rights era when the made-for-television movie is aired on the Hallmark Channel Friday, September 20, he said.
Glantz, who teaches screenwriting classes in the Visual and Media Arts Department, wrote the script based on the 1995 novel by Christopher Paul Curtis. It is a story about three African American siblings who move with their close-knit family from Flint, Michigan, to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 as the fight for racial equality is in full swing.
Told from the point of view of the “very precocious, bright” 11-year-old Kenny, the story features comedy and the family members’ love for one another, Glantz said.
“The book is very, very funny,” he said. “There’s a rambunctious older brother. The dad and the mom have a really wonderful relationship and they’re always teasing each other.”
Glantz said the story drew on real-life experiences of Curtis, who grew up in Flint.
“When they get to the South, it’s their first real confrontation with racism,” said Glantz, adding that the family does not reach the South until later in the story. “In the book, a lot of the civil rights stuff is revealed gradually through…the eyes of the kids on this road trip.”
As the nation recently observed the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Glantz said it is important for youngsters to gain different perspectives of the civil rights era.
“There’s a whole generation of kids, black and white, that don’t understand the civil rights movement,” he said. “The way kids are exposed to it now…it’s history, rather than something that’s living.”
The cast of Birmingham includes David Alan Grier, Anika Noni Rose, and Wood Harris.
Glantz has written several screenplays on the Holocaust and co-authored a memoir on a Holocaust survivor titled Clara’s War: One Girl’s Story of Survival (Ecco, 2010).
“The book [Birmingham] is taught in a lot of schools,” he said. “It’s such a wonderful book that my hope is the movie does really well and exposes the story to a whole new audience.”