It’s safe to say Denzel Washington is a fan of legendary playwright August Wilson. He has starred in the Tony award-winning Broadway production of Fences,he’ll be directing the movie adaptation of the same play, and now he will produce 10 of the writer’s shows for HBO.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, during an event titled An Evening With Denzel Washington & Dr. Todd Boyd in Beverly Hills, CA, the actor revealed that he reached a deal with the cable network.
He stated, “We’re going to do one a year for the next nine years. I’m really excited about that. That they put it in my hands, the estate, and trust me. That’s good enough for me. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Wilson created the Pittsburgh Cycle, which consists of 10 plays – each representing one decade from the 20th century – that documents the African-American experience.
“Families, love, betrayal whatever the theme is. People relate and enjoy listening to or seeing his work. He was just a bright, brilliant shining light who was here and then he was gone, but his work will live forever to be interpreted by actors and directors for as long as we’re here,” the star added.
‘The Great White Way’ is seeing a serious dose of color these days.
In 2014, Black actors broke ground on Broadway when Norm Lewis became the first Black male to play the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, and Keke Palmer played Rodger and Hammerstein’s first Black Cinderella on the stage. This year, Brandy scored another career milestone as the third notable Black actress to play femme fatale Roxie Hart in Chicago.And just last week, photos of Taye Diggs as Hedwig & The Angry Inch’s first Black male superstarhit the web to tons of excitement.
These inspiring moves are not only monumental for the actors, but also for the world of Broadway. While television and film are often called out for their extreme lack of diversity, Broadway has a long history of incorporating actors of color, as well as from the LGBT and disabled communities. And yet, despite impressive attempts at inclusivity, most people remain unaware of the strides made in the theater world.
To put it mildly, Hollywood could learn a lot from the Great White Way’s moves to culturally harmonize the stage.
Black actors first began standing under those bright white lights in 1920 when Charles Giplin became the first Black actor on Broadway to play the lead role in The Emperor Jones. Seven years later, Ethel Waters became the first Black actress in a lead role in Africana. Meanwhile, Show Boat was the first production to feature an integrated cast and even an interracial marriage.
The Roaring Twenties gave us our “Black firsts” on Broadway, but racism and segregation marred an otherwise elegant art scene, due much in part to the terrible effects of minstrelsty. Minstrels shows may not have been “Broadway” productions, but the racist shows garnered popularity nonetheless. Sometimes performed through the vaudeville platform (think baby Broadway), the productions continued through the 1960s, when fight for civil rights decreased their popularity.
Still, amid all of the setbacks, Black actors persevered by singing, dancing and acting their way into our hearts. More importantly, they did so not for the amusement of the White man, but out of their talent and genuine passion for the field.
In 1950, Juanita Hill was the first Black woman to win a Tony Award for a Supporting Role as Bloody Mary in South Pacific. Another Rodgers and Hammerstein production, the story was far from the famed duo’s most famous shows, but was notable for its tackling of the harmful affects of racism head-on.
The next 30 years would see a number of other noteworthy moments, including Diahann Carroll’s Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for No Strings. Vinnette Justine Carroll‘s achievement as the first Black female director of Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, the production of Ntozake Shange’s emotional For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, powerhouse actress Audra McDonald winning and of course Jennifer Holliday’s portrayal of Effie White in Dreamgirls:
But the last two years have been extremely notable for their high-profile and consistent opportunities for Black stage actors.Not only did Broadway darling Audra McDonald make history by winning her sixth Tony in 2014 (also becoming the only actress to win in all four acting categories), but Phyllicia Rashad won a Tony for the revival of A Raisin In The Sun and Denzel Washington shone in his much-praised role in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences.
The age-old story on a stalled film adaptation of August Wilson’s award-winning play Fences is that, the playwright insisted to the studio (Paramount Pictures at the time – this was in the late 1980s) that the director of the film be black. Of course, Paramount didn’t feel that was necessary, stating that they wanted “the best director for the job.” Even Eddie Murphy, who was then attached to star in and co-produce the film adaptation, told Wilson that he wasn’t going to hire a director just because they were black.
Wilson reiterated that he wasn’t suggesting that a black be director hired simply because they are black, but certainly a black director who was qualified for the job. But this wasn’t a clause in the original agreement between Wilson and Paramount, so the studio wasn’t legally bound to adhere to Wilson’s wishes (however they realized well enough that a film adaptation of Fences without Wilson’s blessing, wasn’t something that they wanted to do). While seeming to be taking Wilson’s wishes under strong consideration, the studio approached Barry Levinson to helm the film; obviously, Levinson isn’t black.
Needless to say, Wilson didn’t approve. Although Levinson backed away from the project anyway, after he saw the play himself, stating that he didn’t think it would translate well to the screen – at least, not the version of the script that Wilson had written. Wilson’s public objections to a white director helming the project were also of some influence.