Actor says ‘The Grace Card’ film shows way to defeat racism

By: By Denis Grasska, Catholic News Service

SAN DIEGO (CNS) — Actor Louis Gossett Jr. is doing his part to cure the “cancer” of racism.

“Racism is a cancer, and we have to get it out of our systems,” the 74-year-old told The Southern Cross, newspaper of the San Diego Diocese, in a phone interview. “We have it in our systems even when we don’t know we have it, and (we have to) do some self-examination and get better, especially (because) our children are watching.”

Gossett hopes his new film, “The Grace Card,” will provide viewers with an opportunity to look inside themselves and perhaps reevaluate some of their perceptions.

The unabashedly Christian film, released in theaters Feb. 25, is the story of two police officers — one white, one black — who overcome a strong mutual dislike and ultimately become friends.

Bill ‘Mac’ McDonald (Michael Joiner), a white officer with the Memphis Police Department, is an embittered man with a dysfunctional family. For 17 years, he has been consumed by anger over the death of his son, who was hit by a car during a police pursuit of an African-American drug dealer. Over the years, his unchecked anger has metastasized into full-blown racism.

McDonald’s new African-American partner, Sam Wright (Michael Higgenbottom), is a man with two occupations. In addition to being a police officer, he also is a minister with the Church of the Nazarene. Wright is struggling with his vocation, uncertain whether God is calling him to continue with the police force or devote himself to full-time ministry. As a Christian minister, he is especially troubled by his inability to respond with love to McDonald’s hatred.

“They really don’t like one another, and they have to … work together, and the miracle happens,” Gossett said, summarizing the plot without giving away specific details. “The miracle comes with a changing of attitudes, and slowly but surely, they are almost conditioned to rely on one another because of certain things that happen. … That’s a gift of grace.”

In “The Grace Card,” Gossett plays Wright’s grandfather George, also a minister, who listens to the young pastor/policeman’s concerns and imparts some wisdom.

The film’s title comes from a story that Gossett’s character tells about the friendship between his own grandfather, Wendle P. Wright, and a wealthy cotton farmer.

Before the U.S. Civil War ended, the farmer freed his slaves and asked for their forgiveness, not only for himself but for all slave owners, even the unrepentant ones. He also offered each of his former slaves a well-paying job and 10 acres of land.

Years later, the same farmer taught Wendle to read and, on his eighth birthday, gave him the Bible that inspired him to become a preacher.

In response to the farmer’s kindness, Wendle wrote the following message on a small strip of paper, which he signed with his name: “I promise to pray for you every day, ask your forgiveness, grant you the same, and be your friend always.”

The concept behind this “grace card” ultimately touches the lives of McDonald and Wright in unforeseen ways.

Gossett has had a distinguished career as an actor, winning an Emmy for his performance as Fiddler in the epic miniseries “Roots” (1977), as well as an Academy Award for his portrayal of drill instructor Sgt. Emil Foley in 1982’s “An Officer and a Gentleman.” These days, he said, his primary motivation in life is his desire to impart important messages to the next generation.

For Gossett, the message of “The Grace Card” dovetails nicely with the mission of the Eracism Foundation Inc., a nonprofit organization he founded in January 2006. According to its website, www.eracismfoundation.org, the foundation’s mission is “to eradicate the systematic impacts of all forms of racism by providing programs that foster cultural diversity, historical enrichment, education and antiviolence initiatives.”

Over the years, Gossett said, he has learned that “you don’t directly combat racism. You just change the thinking and the lifestyle, so it doesn’t live so long.”

“We’ve come a long way, and we have a long way to go,” he said, reflecting on the current state of race relations in America. But an end to racism “could happen overnight” if people — after the manner of the film’s characters — choose to “play the grace card.”

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