The Watsons Go to Birmingham was a smash hit when it aired last Friday (September 20). Thousands of ‘Hallmark Channel’ viewers tuned in or set their DVRs to watch the Watsons of Flint, Michigan travel to Birmingham, Alabama during a time of civil unrest in the South. While the television movie resonated with many because of its historical background, it carried more significance for Tonya Lee who produced the film.
“We read The Watsons Go to Birmingham aloud 10 years ago, and it was a wonderful opportunity to really enjoy the [Watsons themselves as a] family,” said Lee during an interview. “We literally laughed out loud while we were reading it—and then we were able to have a real conversation about American history. My parents lived in the segregated South, in Virginia, so it was important to me to talk to my kids about their history from a young age, about where they come from—from the positive point of view that they were survivors, that they were strong. This book gave us the opportunity to go a little deeper into what segregation was like for their grandparents and also to talk about the children’s crusade and how important it is to lend your voice to the community, to make a difference. I really hope that my children do make a difference in some way.”
Not only did the story line provide an open door for Tonya to talk with her kids about racism and the importance of speaking out, but it also gave the celebrity something that she, as a parent, could relate to. In the book and movie, Byron is a troubled teen whose rebellious ways lead to the family’s journey to Birmingham. Tonya told media that such behavior from children is something that she, as a mom, can identify with. “I have teenagers myself, so I know it’s a challenge,” explained the star. “My parents will tell you that I was a challenge! No matter how well-behaved your kid is, teenagers are difficult, and [the Watsons] are really trying to parent these kids and get them through [the tough stuff]. I really love that. These parents are working so hard to try to make sure they keep their kid on the right track. A lot of parents will relate.”
Tonya has two kids, Satchel and Jackson, with husband Spike Lee. The couple wed in 1993.