I recently attended the advanced virtual screening for Netflix’s film adaptation of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (whew, still processing the amazing performances in that one, but I’ll share more on that later), and following the film, Samuel L. Jackson moderated a Q&A with the cast and crew. At multiple points in the panel, Jackson alluded to something that stuck with me: Similar to how white folks have Shakespearian actors who have performed in plays written by William Shakespeare, Black folks have a genre that belongs to us—Wilsonians.
That designation refers to actors who have performed in plays written by the late iconic scribe August Wilson. In that spirit comes Netflix’s upcoming documentary, Giving Voice.
The doc’s synopsis, via the press release sent to The Root:
A new generation of performers is discovered in Giving Voice, which follows the emotional journey of six students as they advance through the high-stakes August Wilson Monologue Competition, an event which celebrates one of America’s preeminent playwrights. Every year, thousands of students from twelve cities across the United States perform the Pulitzer Prize winner’s work (Fences, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) for a shot to perform on Broadway. Directors Jim Stern and Fernando Villena capture students discovering themselves and the world around them through Wilson’s “Century Cycle,” a canon of ten plays portraying the 20th century African American experience. Executive producer Viola Davis, along with Fences co-star Denzel Washington, share the impact that Wilson’s timeless artistry and legacy has had on their careers and their hopes for the young people carrying it forward. Giving Voice is an Endgame Entertainment and Pilgrim Media Group Production in association with Endeavor Content, Impact Partners, Get Lifted Film Co and JuVee Productions.
The Root is proud to debut the trailer for the film, where executive producer Davis, his fellow Wilsonian Washington, as well as the participating students in the monologue competition, discuss just what Wilson meant to them.
“August was that one writer who saw me—and when I say ‘me,’ I do mean me, but I also mean people like me,” Davis says in the trailer, as the voice of John Legend (also an executive producer on this project) croons in the background.
“I mean, he’s talking about us, he’s talking about me...I’m like, ‘Oh shoot, that’s like my aunt up there!’” Washington adds, alluding to Wilson’s amazing plays performed onstage.
“August gave me agency over who I am and showed me you’re worth seeing,” says one of the competition students in the trailer.
Yeah, I am looking forward to reveling in the richness that this will undoubtedly serve. Rest in power, August Wilson.
Giving Voice premieres Dec. 11 on Netflix.
Update: 11/19/2020, 10:09 a.m. ET: An earlier version of this post noted that Denzel Washington was an executive producer on this project, but we have been informed that he is not the EP. We have reflected the correct roles above.