The Grace Card and Race in America
By Hannah Goodwyn
- Though The Grace Card touches on many facets of family life and personal faith, the Christian movie is -- in part -- a cinematic look at the relationship between a white and a black cop in the South.
Director David Evans’ idea for the film was jump started by the racial tensions of the past and present in Memphis, Tennessee. One of the lead characters, an African-American cop/part-time preacher named Sam, is even based on one of Dr. Evan’s patients. When he wasn’t working on The Grace Card, Evans tended to his eye-care practice.
“I’ve been around [racism] my whole life,” Evans explains. “I’ve lived in Missouri; I now live in Tennessee. And it never ceases to amaze me how brazen people can be in their conversations. Oftentimes, people will think, ‘Oh, he’s white, so he’s going to go along with this joke or he’s going to go along with this negative comment I’m making about someone because of their skin color’. Living in the South, it’s something I’m constantly around.”
The Grace Card Casts’ Encounters with Racism
Evans’ lead actors also recall their earliest memories of racial prejudice. Comedian Michael Joiner and newcomer Michael Higgenbottom both had not yet appeared in a dramatic film prior to The Grace Card. Intrigued by the opportunity and the movie’s developed story, the actors became Mac McDonald (Joiner), a bitter, angry cop and Sam Wright, Mac’s faith-guided partner (Higgenbottom).
When asked about their personal encounters with racial division, both stories confirm that racism isn’t just a Southern issue. Growing up in a poor section of Gary, Indiana, Michael Joiner was a minority in his predominately black neighborhood. One day, when Joiner was a young boy, his mother encouraged him to invite an African-American boy to play with he and his friends. The group welcomed his new friend as he did.
“There was a lot of hostility and racism in Gary in 1960. That was still an era of deep racism like you don't always experience,” Joiner recalls. “I didn't know what my mom was doing until years later. That all it takes is one person to break that crazy mold; and look what happened. So my mom taught me early on, don't judge a person by their color. I went through teenage years, and it was cool to tell black jokes and so on. I'm not going to lie to you. I think white people in Gary who tell you they didn't, ain’t telling the truth. But you grow. I gave my life to the Lord. God showed me that's not how we judge people.”
Joiner’s on-screen counterpart, Michael Higgenbottom, also remembers dealing with racism growing up in Chicago, Illinois.
“I went to a high school that was predominantly white, probably about 80 percent if not more, white. I remember somebody spray painting KKK in the main hallway of our school,” Higgenbottom recalls. “I remember us having outright fights... I had a guy follow my sister down the hall for a week just calling her every racial epithet he could come up with.”
Ending Racism in America
Veteran actor Louis Gossett, Jr., brings years of Hollywood experience to The Grace Card, as Sam’s grandfather, George. The Academy Award winner says he signed onto this faith-based project because it matched what he believes – that racial injustice must be stopped and can if we show grace and allow God to guide us. Gossett’s personal mission end racism is evident off the movie set in his foundational work through his organization, The Eracism Foundation.
“We really cannot get along without one another. The sooner we learn that, the better our country will go…,” says Gossett, when he was explaining the racial superiority he sees in Hollywood.
Higgenbottom also sees the immediate need to eradicate racism in America and feels The Grace Card is a great way to start the conversation.
“We've come so far, but have a long way to go as far as racial reconciliation,” Higgenbottom says. “It’s all over the country. And it's on both sides. Racism comes from ignorance. People don't know about the other person, and they're too scared to find out. People need to be more open when it comes to talks about race relations.”
Joiner says, “There's more that we can do than just—well it’s just kind of on the outward appearance of ‘let's not be racist’. If we understand each other, there's a God-birth thing that could happen in there,” Joiner says. “We're not meant to be alike. We're different. But we need to celebrate our differences. That's why God made us. Hate to say it would be a boring place with just white people. It would be a boring world. So God made us to be a blessing. The devil used it for a curse. We need to undo that curse and get back to that blessing, that reason God made us for each other; blacks, whites, everybody.”
Reconciliation for All
Even beyond the issue of race, The Grace Card’s story prompts moviegoers to see the need for reconciliation in all broken relationships.
“This movie, especially by the end, is about redemption, grace, forgiveness on every level, which means it's universal. It's good for every person. And [it’s about] families; it’s just as important as what happened with me and my partner, as what happened with me and my wife, and me and my child.”
In agreement, director David Evans says the film is “all about relationships and how we can extend grace and forgiveness and ultimately achieve reconciliation. And it’s not just about racial reconciliation. It’s about husbands and wives. It’s about fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters, co-workers and neighbors. And that’s what’s it all about. As Louis Gossett, Jr., said, [it’s about] ‘learning to extend grace. It’s easy to receive grace, but it’s hard to give it away.’ And I believe people walked out of the theater tonight understanding that and understanding what it’s important to be aware of people around and how we can express ourselves differently.”
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Hannah Goodwyn serves as the Entertainment and Family producer for CBN.com. For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.
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