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July 18, 2017

From the Past to Now: August Wilson Politics


Samuel French is proud to support the August Wilson Monologue Competition, which was created by Kenny Leon and True Colors Theater Company in 2007 to carry on the legacy of August Wilson through the next generation of theatre artists. In 2017, the Dallas Competition expanded to include essays written about Mr. Wilson’s work. Check out the top three here.

August Wilson has accomplished many things, including winning two Pulitzer Prizes, six New York Drama Critics Circle Awards, a Rockefeller Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, a Heinz Award and more. Most of these awards are for his extraordinary plays and wonderful shows. Mr. Wilson was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the setting of nine of his ten “Century Cycle” plays. The Century Cycle is a series of plays that were based off the many hardships in the city where he grew up. He often focused on topics like sexism and racism.

Wilson often expressed what he saw and felt in his different plays. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is one of the plays included in The Century CycleIt is important because it expresses how racism used to be. For example, back in the 1800s through 1900s, many people considered African Americans to be less than other human beings. They were sold for money; people shouldn’t be sold for any type of money. So this play showed how four black musicians living in the 1920s were working to become famous. In most cities at that time, African Americans couldn’t go to the same school as other children. They even had different water fountains they were assigned to drink out of, and they had to also sit at the back of the bus. In the play, Ma Rainey is the leader of the group. Rainey showed women’s empowerment during this play because when people would discriminate against her, she stood up for herself. Nowadays, it’s somewhat the same but also very different.

A lot has changed over the years. As African Americans we have evolved because now African Americans are equal to everyone. That means more rights and no oppressive rules. They now have their own houses and cars, and work at their own free will. They have equal opportunity like everyone else. On the other hand, some people still think less of them. There are people who dislike African Americans for no reason, and use violence – including shootings, fights, and sometimes lynching – to show them they are still lower-class humans. African Americans are still pushing through many hardships today. Many people don’t know about these things because news reporters and producers don’t always show stuff about that type of violence.

In the music business today, African Americans have changed. Ma Rainey talked about real world situations in her music. Some artists still talk about important topics whereas others don’t. A lot of artists today think material things are important, but what they fail to realize is that those possessions will not be there forever. Yet things are changing in different ways. Racism is shown in everyday life from the beginning to now. It’s also one of the political things shown in this play and is something humans still need to work on.

Another play written by August Wilson that expressed a political problem is The Piano LessonThis play expresses sexism. Women were disrespected by men throughout the play. This play is about how a family member was trying to sell a piano that’s been a value to their family for years. Only one woman was trying to keep the family piano. This showed women’s empowerment. Men thought it was valuable to sell whereas it was important to her that the family keep it. Today, women have way more freedom than in the early 1900s. In the 2000s, women have basically the same rights as men. Women can get any job they want, and aren’t forced to stay home and cook, clean, or watch the children. Back in the late 1800s/early 1900s women couldn’t even think of doing what some of today’s women are doing. In every state, some run for political spots. They can even become the president of the United States of America. There still are some selfish, inconsiderate, and rude men who believe that women should stay at home and watch the children, clean, or cook until they get home from work. So in some situations women are still fighting for equality.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom expressed racism against African Americans. The Piano Lesson showed men’s sexism against women. These topics were based off things from the part of Pittsburgh where August Wilson grew up and on which he based most of his plays. The actions shown were basically real events that happened somewhere. Both of these plays examine political problems, particularly sexism and racism, from the 1900s and today.