August Wilson’s observation of the great migration; the extraordinary phenomenon where millions of black Americans who were born in the south, raised in the south, enslaved in the south traveled from the rural south to the urban north-east to escape poor economic conditions as well as the prevalent racial segregation and discrimination.
George C. Wolfe calls it more of an intellectual exodus and in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom he set out to document what happens to the body and the spirit and what happens to music.
Wolfe is famously a director and playwright of theatre and film and in a career filled with extraordinary work and contributions, he achieved widespread recognition when he directed the Broadway premiere of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America in 1993.
He recently sat down, virtually, with Misan Harriman to discuss his approach to directing, telling difficult stories, the power of performance and directing the film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
You can watch the full interview below, preceded by a few segments that epitomise Wolfe’s care, craftsmanship and dedication to story.
He believes in creating work that is empowering, even if it is unsettling to watch or devasting to comprehend.
In directing a film, or nurturing any artistic production, you have to take yourself out of the world, and the resulting film is your gift back to it.
Wolfe’s art of telling stories is to find our shared experiences, the ones that resonate deeply and in watching the characters we see ourselves and completely surrender to the story.
In discussing the craft of directing, to not revere the material, not to treat it as a museum-like object but to give your heart over to the material, because the material is giving its heart to you.
Watch Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix, appreciate the deft hand of George C. Wolfe and the essential stories of August Wilson. Amongst a range of important lessons is the transformative power of the blues and of the artists who refuse to let society’s prejudices dictate their worth.