Vision of ‘Grace’

PLAYING THE GRACE CARD: Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr. (right) and newcomer Michael Higgenbottom star in The Grace Card.

A Memphis optometrist, his Tennessee church, and a Hollywood legend join forces to tell a story of faith, forgiveness, and racial healing.

The Grace Card, a new Christian film starring Academy Award-winner Lou Gossett Jr. and newcomer Michael Higgenbottom, explores the idea of racial healing through forgiveness. Released late last month, the film has been stirring up vigorous discussions among Christians across the nation.

The film focuses on Sam Wright (played by Higgenbottom), a Memphis police officer and part-time minister who is promoted over his new partner, Mac McDonald, who is white. Michael Joiner plays the bitter Mac, whose hatred destroys all around him and initiates several dramatic twists in the story.

At the height of his frustration in trying to help Mac overcome his hatred while dealing with his own problems, Sam goes to his grandfather, George Wright (played by Gossett), who tells him the story of the grace card. This card was passed down to him by his great-grandfather who, on the day he was given his freedom from slavery, at the age of 8, wrote this on a card and gave it to his former master:

I promise to pray for you, ask your forgiveness, grant you the same, and be your friend always.

Sam’s grandfather gives him the card and suggests it will also help him overcome his problem with his partner.

the-grace-card-poster200x30.jpgDavid Evans, the writer and director of The Grace Card, left a thriving optometry practice to pursue his dream of making life-changing films. “I was hoping when people heard the term ‘the race card,’ they would know that there was something that could trump it, the grace card,” he told UrbanFaith.

A native of the home of Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Arkansas, Evans graduated from a Memphis school of optometry in 1994 and worked in a practice there for over 15 years. During that time, he started a drama ministry at his church that produced a massive annual production for Easter. Each year, these Passion plays presented the gospel by creating modern-day stories that parallel the life of Christ. The inspiration for The Grace Card grew out of one of these productions, which was based on an idea shared with him by one of his optometry patients.

David-Evans200x300.jpgDavid Evans (at left, with wife Esther) was moved to re-envision his stage plays for film by the story of the Kendrick brothers, whose hit movies Facing the Giants and Fireproof were made through a film-production ministry launched through their church in Albany, Georgia. Suddenly it was clear what God wanted him to do. With the help of his home church (Calvary Church in Cordova, Tennessee), a slew of church members, and virtually the whole city of Memphis, he shifted from helping people to see clearly with their eyes to helping them see clearly with their hearts through the power of cinematic storytelling. Veteran screenwriter Howard Klausner came on board as a co-writer and producer, and Evans’ wife, Esther, joined him as an executive producer.

Needing an actor with powerful appeal to help bring gravitas to his film (as well as generate buzz), Evans sought out Lou Gossett.

Gossett was born in New York and attended First Baptist Church of Coney Island. He was shaped by an educational background that was nothing short of an idyllic renaissance, he says. Growing up, he was an outstanding student and scholar and was voted junior-high and senior-high class president. A graduate of NYU, and an athlete standing at 6-foot-4, he turned down an invitation to try out for the NBA’s New York Knicks. Instead, he moved to California where he acted in television and film, eventually earning an Emmy in 1977 for his seminal role as Fiddler in the groundbreaking miniseries Roots and a 1983 Academy Award for his co-starring role in An Officer and a Gentleman. Also known for his charitable work, Gossett is founder of the Eracism Foundation, an organization targeting an end to ignorance, gang violence, and racism.

Says Gossett: “I’m 74 years old now and the final lesson in forgiveness for me came from Nelson Mandela, who, if anybody had a reason to be angry, it was him, and as I watched him coming out of the Robben Island prison with a broad smile on his face, I said he’s on another level and that’s the level I want to be on. I realized I had to forgive myself, and others, and this role as the grandfather teaching forgiveness fits like a glove.”

The Grace Card is Michael Higgenbottom’s film debut. He came to Memphis after attending Knoxville College and later graduating from the University of Memphis. He acted in commercials and onstage while working as a salesman for an aircraft company.

Higgenbottom’s character, Sam, seems like a gentle giant, who is so lovable and soft spoken, that at first, it is hard to see him as a tough cop, but he pulls it off. He says the role appealed to him not only because he identified with Sam’s character but also because, “I think this movie will spark conversation. People are longing for movies that inspire — movies with a positive message. This movie will cause people to talk about race relations, about forgiveness.”

He sees the relationship between his character and the character of Mac McDonald as a way to help people see barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding that keep people apart. “Like Mac, a lot of people want to hold a whole race accountable for the act of one person or a group of people, but you have to extend grace, you have to pray, you have to forgive.”

Gossett agrees. “With the way things are turning in the Middle East and in other parts of the world, we have a golden opportunity in this country right now to show that democracy works — we could be one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all, but we’re not practicing that right now. That’s why I think that The Grace Card is such a good thing.”

But how do you begin the dialogue about racism in this country when it seems people are so polarized and set in their views?

It’s worth noting the effect The Grace Card is having as a tool of reconciliation, in both large and small ways. The film previewed in over 120 major cities across the U.S. and the response was been encouraging, says Evans. The film opened on Feb. 25 in just over 350 theaters but has earned more than $1 million to date. Group tickets are being purchased by churches in triple digits throughout the country, and the churches are hoping to use the film as a platform for much-needed discussions about forgiveness and reconciliation, says Evans. And in many cities, local radio stations are leading the challenge to churches, families, individuals, businesses, and schools, to be the “Face of Grace.”

According to well-known Dallas pastor and radio host Tony Evans, the film “is a powerful portrayal of how one life transformed by God’s grace can substantially impact an entire community.”

David Evans, the optometrist-turned-filmmaker, is ecstatic to finally see his vision translated to the big screen, but he’s even more excited about how God is using the film. “We’re hearing stories about grace and forgiveness posted on Facebook and in e-mails sent to us, and that’s due to a group of dedicated influencers, pastors, and ministry leaders of many races,” he says. “We can’t wait to see what happens as the message spreads.”

About the author, Wanda Thomas Littles

Wanda Thomas Littles is an author, speaker, and freelance writer. Her work has appeared in A Time of Singing magazine and Clubhouse Jr. She has just completed her latest books of poetry, Like a Thief in the Night and A New Fire, as well as a novel called Preacha! Wanda and her husband reside in San Antonio, where she's also a radio announcer on KDRY. Find out more at WandaLittles.com.
  1. Reading what Wanda has said about the film, author, director, and actors makes me want to rush out and see the movie. It sounds like a good film to take my children and grandchildren to. One that teaches morals, faith, and love of your neighbor.
    Wanda’s critque was excellent, one that I could understand and want to share. Thank you Wanda.

  2. What an interesting article. Wanda makes me want to see the movie.

  3. Excellent review that definitely incites interest in the film and its much needed message. Thank you!

  4. Wanda Littles writes a commanding review of the film, The Grace Card. It’s a timeless message that’s in demand worldwide. Thank you for writing a wonderful review that whets my appetite for the movie.

  5. It does sound like an interesting movie! We all have people in our lives who test us in some kind of way, but in the same way God grants us grace, I’m pretty sure He would like us to extend that to other people. Great article!

  6. After reading this well-written, insightful review, I just have one question…where is this movie playing in my area? Thank you for setting up the backstory for a film that in this day is sure to resonate with many people.
    Kudos to Wanda Thomas Littles for her journalistic style and attention to detail when reviewing what is sure to be a catalyst to a topic needing attention. Grace – Don’t leave home without it!
    Also – The information about Lou Gossett and his quotes give the article a real sense of authenticity. Nice to hear his first hand opinions about the film and our nation in particular.

  7. Wanda Littles’ review of this film grabbed my attention. Once I began reading, I could not stop until I read it in its entirety. Her special gift for the written word comes as no surprise to me, though, because I am very familiar with Wanda’s writings–her special gift from God.
    I can’t wait to see the film!
    Beverly Ellison

  8. Wanda, what a well written review. This review encouraged me to seek out the movie. You have an interesting way of writing that always whet my appetite. Your reviews are the greatest.

  9. Nice article, I lately found your writing and it is truly unique. I surely will read this again., if you need information about itune help :)

  10. Thank you for sharing an inspiration review which motivates people to not only see the movie, but to aspire to live a more Christ-like life by forgiving, asking forgiveness, and being the light of Jesus to others. I liked reading details about how the movie came to be made. I pray others are motivated to change for the better through the reading of the article and the watching of the movie.

  11. After reading Wanda’s article, I’m ready to go to the movies! I enjoyed reading about the background of David Evans and I learned something new about Lou Gossett Jr. Great job Wanda and much success to you and this film.
    Jacqueline Peebles

  12. Sounds like a good movie. I was inspired by the grace card … “I promise to pray for you, ask your forgiveness, grant you the same, and be your friend always”. If the movie is as good as this thought-provoking promise, it should not be missed! Insightful background information by Wanda Little.

  13. Great article by Wanda Thomas Littles! I will definitely go to see “The Grace Card” when it comes to the San Antonio area. Ms. Littles used just the right amount of backstory to intrigue me. I also liked the quotes from Lou Gossett Jr. and others to give personal insight into the message of the film.

  14. Wanda does it again! She draws us into the world of the actors and producer and makes us feel a part of the lives of everyone involved. It’s as if we were sitting on the front porch chatting! Too bad she was not involved in the production! Being from the Memphis area (across the bridge) I can’t wait to see the film!

  15. The message of the Grace Card is timeless and the need to experience it extends to all people everywhere. God ordains the pathway to the heart of each of us to receive it—from Him to David Evans and Howard Klausner to producers with faith and to theaters who show it and people who view it. Fortunately, in my case, God turned to Urban Faith and Wanda Littles to report on it and present it to the online community. Thank you Urban Faith and thank you Wanda Littles for playing your part in sharing the message.

  16. This is such an inspirational review! It is well written and encouraging. May God continue to bless the efforts of each individual involved with the movie as well as Wanda. Thank God for what He is doing in the lives of His chosen people. Urban Faith, keep getting the message out!

  17. This review brought the story line and those involved to life. Anyone who reads it will be anxious to see the movie and experience for themselves. It is a blessing to all to see such films come out of Hollywood.

  18. Excellent article about an inspiring film. Ms Littles captures the imagination and provides just enough information to whet your apetite to see the film. She is an excellent writer.

  19. Thanks for your thorough and thought provoking article of what sounds like an outstanding, timely, and promising film.
    What a time in America for us to be reminded that we all need to hold the grace card of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation close to our hearts and apply it often.
    Great article! This should inspire churches to show this film to their congregations to initiate further dialogue and bring a revival of action.
    I’d like to know more about the optometry patient whose idea David used to write The Grace Card.
    Thanks Wanda, keep up the good work!
    God bless,
    Lee

  20. After reading the artical it has really inspired me to watch the movie. It never suprise me of the words and passion that you have when dedicated to something you love. Thanks for this article that you have shared and cant wait to see what is next. T.S.

  21. This movie will have you on your knees.