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Tonya Lewis Lee Talks “The Watsons Go to Birmingham” Premiere, the Power of our Youth & her A-HA! Moment

I confess, I love Tonya Lewis Lee.

As a mother of two, a champion for infant health, a best-selling author and a creative force, she inspires me everyday. And, she commands her own shine even when standing next to her husband, filmmaker Spike Lee. Her star will be shining even brighter on Friday, September 20 at 8pm for the premiere of “The Watsons go to Birmingham” on the Hallmark Channel–the film adaptation of the 1963 novel by Christopher Paul Curtis, directed by Kenny Leon and produced by the super fabulous Tonya Lewis Lee.

I asked Tonya three questions about the film–pop quiz style–which btw, she’s been working on for ten years–and loved her responses regarding black families, the power of our youth, dealing with rejection and sharing her own A-ha! moment working on this project.

Kimberly: What inspired you to tell this story this way?
Tonya Lewis Lee: I read the novel The Watson Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis out loud with my children when they were young.  We laughed and then we had a serious conversation about America’s difficult past.  I also loved the fact that the book told a story about the civil rights movement through the eyes of a 12 year old boy.    I also loved this beautiful family.  The mother and father are parenting their three children, especially their teenage son who is giving them a hard way to go the way teenagers do.  This family is fun and quirky and full of love.  So, I was excited about telling the story of this beautiful black family full of love who happen upon some pivotal moments in our history.
Kimberly: What do you want viewers, especially young people, to take away from this movie? 
Tonya: First and foremost I want viewers to be entertained.  We want people to laugh, to cry and to think.  Its my hope that families will experience the film together relating to the dynamics of the Watson family.  Further, for young people, I hope they come away having witnessed the passion of the young students of Birmingham who saw a moral wrong in their community, stood up, let their voices be heard as they demanded for better and changed not just America, but the world for us all. Those real life Children’s Crusaders went on to inspire Nelson Mandela who said that when he saw that Birmingham could change, he knew there could be a change in South Africa.  I want our young people to know that they too can make a difference in their own world by using their voices and demanding better even when they are young.
Kimberly: What discovery did you make about yourself while bringing this project to fruition? 
Tonya: For me, getting this project made took almost ten years.  Initially, I saw my role simply as producer, but as we were searching for writers I decided to take a chance and see if I could draft something that would get the attention of financial backers.  As many doors closed, we, my producing partner, Nikki Silver and I , did not allow the rejection to get us down…for long.  I say all this to say, that with the support of family and friends, I’m tougher than I thought.  I love writing and producing, two very different mind sets.  And I look forward to bringing more stories to life for a very long time.  I hope to be working one way or another until the day I leave this earth.
Now, you see why I love her.


About the Film: The Watsons go to Birminhgam stars Anika Noni Rose, David Alan Grier, LaTanya Richardson and Wood Harris. The film takes place in the summer of 1963 as a Michigan family set out on a road trip to Birmingham, Alabama where they find themselves dealing with race and civil rights during the historical 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.

Learn more and check out the educator’s guide at http://www.hallmarkchannel.com/thewatsonsgotobirmingham/about


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