The 6 Degrees of August Wilson and USC

A look at how the Trojan family connects to the legendary late playwright

August Wilson is known for his poignant explorations of Black culture and experience. (Photo/Netflix)

See how USC connects to the Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright August Wilson — and especially how the School of Dramatic Arts links to his work in this fall’s Trojan Family Magazine. Here’s a more in-depth look at two of the connections highlighted in the magazine article:

Adapting Wilson for the screen

School of Dramatic Arts alum and producer Todd Black BFA ’82 and his longtime collaborator Denzel Washington brought Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom from the stage to the screen via Netflix in 2020. The adaptation garnered five Academy Award nominations, including one for the late Chadwick Boseman. Black is producing Wilson’s Century Cycle of plays — which also includes The Piano Lesson (in pre-production) and Fences (2016).

“August Wilson is one of the greatest playwrights that has ever graced us, so we aren’t trying to get away from the play,” Black told SDA in an interview earlier this year. “The point with every one of these adaptations is to make sure the audience understands it is theatre. We’re making these as cinematic as possible, while remaining completely respectful to what August Wilson created.” Read the full feature on our website.

Exploring Black heritage through Wilson’s texts

SDA junior Nia Sarfo made her way through the regionals and finals of the 2018 August Wilson Monologue Competition on screen in the Netflix documentary Giving Voice. Every year, thousands of students nationwide perform monologues from the late Wilson’s 10 plays, known as The American Century Cycle. Each of these plays celebrating Black heritage is set in a different decade of the 20th century, and each is filled with the poetry of everyday language.

Sarfo has read all 10 of Wilson’s American Century Cycle plays, and her favorite remains Joe Turner, partly because of her journey with it in the competition, portraying Molly Cunningham. “But it was really the way he was able to capture women in the play that did it for me,” she said. “After picking up Joe Turner, I was like, yeah, I definitely know this story like the back of my hand.” Read more about Sarfo’s journey on our website.