Giving Voice (2020)

JAMES D. STERN, FERNANDO VILLENA

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

USA, 2020. , , , . Cinematography by . Produced by , , , James D. Stern. Music by . Production Design by . Film Editing by , , .

Established in the name of the great American author who changed theatre forever with his groundbreaking plays, the August Wilson Monologue Contest began almost immediately after the author’s death in 2005.  Since its inception it has provided opportunities for young people all over America, particularly from African-American homes and communities, to get a taste of the intoxicating pleasures of performing in theatre and, in many cases, have gone on to successful careers after competing.  This heartfelt and moving film covers the 2019 competition, beginning with the regional championships and picking a handful of teenagers as personalities to follow throughout their journey.  In some cases, the contest represents an opportunity to get away from difficulty at home, in other cases it’s the fulfillment of a long-held dream, and as the local contests close and candidates are selected to go the national championship in New York City, we see the disappointment for some who are left behind and the triumph of those who make it to the final round.  The monologues they choose mostly come from one of the ten plays that Wilson wrote in his Pittsburgh Cycle, each one dealing with black life in America in each decade of the twentieth century.  Candidates explain to the camera why they have chosen their pieces and what significance they have to their lives, which directors Fernando Villena and James D. Stern weave into a solid biographical overview of Wilson’s life and work (including some wonderful footage of professional stage performances).  Viola Davis and Denzel Washington, who have recently given us the pleasure of two Wilson plays on film, Fences and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, are also on hand to discuss not only the writer’s importance in American culture but the profound effect he has had on their own very successful careers.  If you weren’t already a fan of August Wilson before watching this you will be inspired to check out his writing, and by the end of the film will have fallen in love with the youthful spirit of these aspiring actors pinning so much of their hope for the future on this one opportunity to shine.

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