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For more than a decade, since a year after the untimely death of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson, an annual monologue competition for high school students culminates with 20 finalists on a Broadway stage. They each choose a passage from Wilson’s 10-play cycle that covers every decade of the 20th century. All are judged on focus, accuracy and understanding the text. Though the contest has three grand prizes, all entrants are winners, because as we see, they mature and change, set goals for their futures, and see a world outside their own lives.
The contest is not really about the students becoming actors or directors. Instead it’s about helping the students believe they can become anything they want in life. As finalist Aaron Guy says, “August Wilson showed me I’m worth seeing.”
Talented high schoolers, some disadvantaged, all feeling overlooked and under-appreciated, get the opportunity to shine and perform Wilson’s eloquent monologues on a Broadway stage. Additionally, stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis explore the profound impact Wilson’s stories have on all audiences and especially Black culture. “The plays feel familiar,” says Washington.
It’s a true-life story full of hope, joy, happy endings … and a gut-wrenching John Legend song over closing credits. As cameras follow a few students as they rehearse and prepare, each viewer will cheer for their personal favorites. Many have the potential to be stars of tomorrow. But the ultimate prizewinners are a big surprise.
Students who could use encouragement and motivation will see youthful exuberance in smart students who dedicate themselves to the competition. Theater buffs, and August Wilson fans will be enthralled. Those who enjoy the new Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will be able to do a deeper dive into more of Wilson’s work.
This is a feel-good film, brimming with optimism and hope, suitable for most family members.