Hollywood couldnt make this film.
By MARY SANCHEZ
The Kansas City Star
Kevin Willmotts Jayhawkers played to a sold-out crowd Friday night at the Lied Center in Lawrence. The movie is not what some might expect. Basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain is the star, but only technically.
This is a local story with deeply significant undertones. Among its many storylines is how the actions of a few made all the difference in the lives of others. University of Kansas Chancellor Franklin Murphy, Coach F.C. Phog Allen, Kansas City Call general manager Dowdal Davis and others used Chamberlains presence in Lawrence to push race relations a little closer to equality. Chamberlain (deftly played by KU basketball player Justin Wesley) instituted change by being present and a star player.
Chamberlain hadnt sought that role. As the film depicts, he wanted to avoid racial strife.
The film plays out through the eyes of Nathan Davis, an internationally known saxophonist from Kansas City, Kan. Davis attended KU at the same time and became friends with the 7-foot-1 player. The real Davis attended Fridays event. It was the first time hed been to Lawrence in 50 years. The films soundtrack features Davis works.
Davis pronounced the movie true, a comment that needs an asterisk. He means the tones of the city then are accurately captured. Liberties are taken with some details. So many of the key characters are deceased, and there are few recorded accounts.
Lawrence in the late 1950s wasnt a hate-filled town of overt racial animosity. But it was segregated.
Davis recalled a restaurant where his band played at night, but where, as African-Americans, they couldnt eat lunch. In Jayhawkers, a diner refuses to serve Chamberlain. Later, the embarrassment of turning away KUs star player prevails. The place opens up to black customers.
Davis remembered the headlines when Lawrence theaters stopped segregating. In the film, Chamberlain is told he and a white date have to move upstairs to the balcony. Chamberlain refuses, encouraging the black people in the balcony to come join him in the lower theater seats. That probably didnt happen, Davis said.
But by welcoming Chamberlain, individual Lawrence businesses took a few steps toward making the city what it is today. Jayhawkers is an example of what a locally produced film can provide, subtleties that might be lost if someone else was doing the retelling.