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Giving Voice. Young actors attending the August Wilson Monologue Competition in New York, NY. c. Jonathon Narducci

Movie Reviews

‘Giving Voice’ review: Netflix documentary is refreshingly feel good

A nice change of pace.

Giving Voice is an inspiring look at an overlooked American playwright. The Netflix documentary focuses on a group of high school students set to compete in the August Wilson Monologue Competition. Along with paying homage to Wilson, the plays eligible for competition focus on a decade of Black life in 20th century America.

The highlight of the film are the six students in the competition. Each one is filled with a genuineness that will draw audiences in. Giving Voice is not a drama filled competition filled with treachery and lies. Directors James D. Stern and Fernando Villena tell a more grounded story. The daily lives of the students show a vulnerability and innocence that makes the documentary that much more enjoyable.

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Some will also be surprised by the lack of cutthroat mentality in Giving Voice. Obviously, the main goal is to win, but the organizers of the contest and the documentarians make it a point to show how winning is not the end all, be all. In a great scene, the contestants get to meet the star of a Broadway show who was in the competition multiple times and never won.

In an era where tension and controversy garner the most attention, it is nice to see a documentary that is meant to educate and make people feel good. There is no dark twist or subtext to Giving Voice. This may throw off some who are used to the more contentious fare that fills the airwaves, but it is a nice surprise that will quickly win over audiences.

An important part of any documentary are the interviews. Along with the students, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are some of the names that take part in Giving Voice. These interviews do a great job of adding gravity to the event. It also mixes in present and past voices with the ones of the future.

Giving Voice is a powerful documentary with an understated tone. The documentary focuses on the literal theatrics of a monologue competition instead of the manufactured conflicts of reality television. Audiences are rewarded with an engaging and positive viewing experience. 

Giving Voice premieres on Netflix December 11

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