Amazing Abolitionist

Amazing Grace shows Wilberforce in action.

In 1999, someone introduced veteran Hollywood producer Ken Wales to Philip Anschutz, a reclusive billionaire entrepreneur and devout evangelical. Anschutz's passion was to see more redeeming movies come out of Tinseltown.

At the time, Anschutz owned a production company with a politically incorrect name: Crusader Films. He asked Wales, also a Christian, what kind of movies he'd like to make. Wales, who had produced the popular TV series Christy in the early '90s, rattled off a few ideas—including his dream of making a film about John Newton, the former slave trader who wrote "Amazing Grace," perhaps the most popular English hymn of the last century.

Wales began describing how he wanted to bring Newton's story to the big screen. Anschutz interrupted: "Have you ever heard of William Wilberforce? Because I'd really like to see a movie about him."

Wales, recounting the story to CT, said he was familiar with the famous 19th-century Christian abolitionist, and he agreed it would make a good movie—after the Newton film. Wales said Newton's story should come first, since it was Newton who, following his conversion to Christianity, eventually mentored Wilberforce.

But Anschutz wouldn't bite. He wanted a Wilberforce film—and got it. Amazing Grace (the title Wales wanted for the Newton movie) opens in theaters on February 23, the 200th anniversary of the British parliament's vote to ban the slave trade in British colonies.

"Phil really wanted the Wilberforce movie," says Wales. "When I asked why he was so passionate about it, he said, 'Because of what Wilberforce did, because of his tenacity, because he stayed the course and really worked with his friends and associates to change the world.' "

In Amazing Grace, actor Ioan ...

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