If there was ever a way of translating the passions, impact and importance that art can have on individuals and communities – and displaying it on screen for all to see – it’s here in Netflix’s Giving Voice.
Co-directed by James D Stern and Fernando Viller (and partly produced by Oscar-winning actor Viola Davis), this uplifting and euphorically inspirational documentary follows hundreds of hopeful students across America on their journey through the annual August Wilson Monologue Competition. The contest, created in memory of the late American playwright whose works include King Hedley II, The Piano Lesson and Fences (which has since been adapted into an Oscar-winning film of the same name), sees these ambitious and highly intelligent teens perform a soliloquy from one of Wilson’s plays for the chance to perform it to a Broadway audience.
However, what makes this project instantly captivating is that it quickly separates itself from the drama of the tournament. Instead, it shifts its focus to a handful of the contestants and the often life-changing effects that the dramatist has had on them. No matter where these young people are from or what their upbringing has been, this man’s words have resonated deeply with them in a way that nothing else has before. These lines, as many of them tell the camera, are about them, their lives and their families. They have been granted a voice, one which they have the confidence to share with hundreds of others who’ve found theirs too.
Whether it’s in the readings, rehearsals or moments of reflection, the emotional connection that the subjects have to these works is felt in every passing frame. It’s this that enables the viewer to vicariously share in their enthusiasm and understand exactly what it is that attracts them to Wilson’s writing. Even if one has never read him before, Giving Voice will provide audiences with a newfound recognition and appreciation for what he has accomplished, both as an artist and for Black America.
The importance of art, no matter what form, can never be underestimated. It can inspire, motivate and give new generations hope for a better future. Giving Voice embodies all of these aspects and more through the legacy of August Wilson and demonstrates the hundreds of young people touched by his creations.
Giving Voice is released on Netflix on 11th December 2020.
Watch the trailer for Giving Voice here: