A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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The "N" word, "ass," "f--king," "motherf--ker," "Lord," "God."
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Products & Purchases
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.
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.