Giving Voice

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
Giving Voice Movie Poster Image
Inspiring docu on writer's legacy; mature themes, language.
  • PG-13
  • 2020
  • 87 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 17+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Actors and performers have a "fearless revolutionary optimism." Thinking about yourself as an artist takes a certain amount of arrogance, but acting is an art of observation and an honorable profession. Life can feel more about masking and being labeled by others than about self expression, but if we don't let our true selves out, we can run the risk of imploding. It's important to know and remember the past. Teenagers need role models and the support of their families. Talk of Reaganomics' damaging efffects on urban areas.

Positive Role Models

The diverse young people profiled in the film talk about overcoming problems small and large, including unstable or unsupportive families, poverty, violence, the difficulties Black women face in being seen and respected, and not fitting in/being judged. They talk about finding their own voices and inner confidence, encountering like-minded peers, and interpreting classic plays through the lenses of their own lived experiences. They show courage in competing and great communication skills.


Monologues stem from scenes in which people cut or threaten each other with knives, razors, and broken bottles; worry about kids getting shot; and are incarcerated for murder. Wilson's plays discuss topics including police brutality and the mass incarceration of Black men. One of the teens says he grew up in a place where there were shootings every night. Another lost his brother earlier in the year to violence. Monologue about threatening a man after he puts his hand up a woman's skirt.


Monologues from plays refer to a woman lying down and opening her legs for a man and being left by a man. Others talk about men making babies and then leaving or looking at and dancing with women suggestively.


The "N" word, "ass," "f--king," "motherf--ker," "Lord," "God."


In New York, the students see the musical Once on The Island. Other works are discussed or seen on NY marquees, including Jungle Book, The Lion King, and Mean Girls. Wilson speaks at Howard University, and teens want to or get to attend other prestigious universities, including Juilliard and Carnegie Mellon.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention of the "crack epidemic" of the 1980s.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Giving Voice features students performing monologues from August Wilson's plays; most have mature themes. Violent acts -- a man slicing another's cheek with a razor, a woman threatening a man with a broken bottle -- are described but aren't actually shown. Some monologues refer to sex, but content doesn't get more explicit than talk of "making babies," "laying down and opening your legs," suggestive dancing, and a man putting his hand up a woman's skirt. Language is strong, with use of "f--king," "motherf--ker," "ass," and the "N" word. Wilson's mostly 20th-century Black characters deal with poverty, incarceration, and violence. Several of the teen performers talk about grappling with similar life experiences (one lost a brother to violence), but overall they're upbeat, with a positive outlook. They and others talk about how performing provides a creative outlet for self expression and, sometimes, a path for the future. Their passage through the August Wilson Monologue Competition is exciting, and end credits inform us that most of them have gone on to study acting at prestigious universities.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byselene11 December 17, 2020

“Giving Voice” to the Best in Us

This is a terrific documentary. Every student and every adult in America should see it. I love that Viola Davis says that acting “saved” her. Any creative perso... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byLoranikas303 December 11, 2020
Profanity ruined it!

What's the story?

GIVING VOICE follows a handful of the hundreds of high school students participating in a national competition to perform monologues from August Wilson's plays. It was filmed in 2018, during the 10th annual edition of the competition, which was launched by some of Wilson's friends three years after his death from cancer at the age of 60. These friends and others -- including Wilson's wife, his longtime producer, and celebrity actors like Viola Davis and Denzel Washington who performed in adaptations of his plays -- talk about what Wilson's work has meant to them personally and to the Black community as a whole. Wilson wrote a series of 10 plays about the Black experience, covering the 10 decades of the 20th century; the film includes clips of him talking about his inspiration and artistic process. Only 20 students make it from regionals to the competition finals in New York City, where the winner will earn a chance to perform on Broadway. Viewers learn about the teens' home lives and backgrounds, find out what drew them to the theater and Wilson's work in particular, and follow in their excitement over the course of the competition.

Is it any good?

The central message of Giving Voice -- that Wilson's work remains remarkably contemporary and relevant -- is uniquely brought to life in this inspiring documentary. Rather than relying solely on celebrity talking heads and archive footage of Wilson discussing his work, the film personifies his legacy through teens who connect deeply to Wilson's plays and the theater arts. The students are mostly teens of color, though not all Black, and many come from impoverished backgrounds. They're all at an exhilarating, joyful, world-is-your-oyster moment in life.

In ways both obvious and more nuanced, the teens' experiences mirror so many of the realities that Wilson wrote about. Interviewees talk about Wilson's characters, their back stories, and how the cadence of their words feel so familiar. Seeing themselves and their own histories reflected in Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning works in turn imbues them with pride, purpose, and a sense of belonging. That Wilson's legacy remains so palpable and meaningful to young people today is striking. That some of the harsher historical realities he shone a light on still resonate with the teens -- and even inspire some to want to work for social change -- is exciting for them and stirring for viewers to see.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the various aspects of August Wilson's legacy, as described in Giving Voice. What is a legacy, exactly?

  • What are some examples of ways in which the students personally connected with Wilson's plays? Did you feel a similar connection?

  • How do the teens demonstrate courage and communication? Why are these important character strengths?

  • Have you ever competed in anything? Was it a positive experience, even if you didn't win?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

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