American Masters: August Wilson - The Ground on Which I Stand


From his roots as an activist and poet to his indelible mark on Broadway, this program captures the legacy of the man some call America’s Shakespeare. Film and theater luminaries such as James Earl Jones, Viola Davis, Phylicia Rashad, Laurence Fishburne, Charles Dutton and others share their stories of the career and experience of bringing Wilson’s rich theatrical voice to the stage. This film tells of his journey to the Great White Way, the triumphs and struggles along the path to such seminal works as Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running and four others before his untimely death in 2005. Directed by Emmy-winner Samuel Pollard (When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts; Slavery by Another Name).

Filmed in the cities where Wilson made his mark, the documentary begins in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, where the future playwright, a brainy, bi-racial child raised in poverty, dropped out of high school because of bullying and prejudice. Self-educated in the city’s public library and streets, Wilson was influenced by the rising black consciousness of the 1960s and became an activist young poet. The film follows his transition to a successful playwriting career, from the founding of the Black Horizon Theater (Pittsburgh) and his early work at the Penumbra Theatre (St. Paul, Minn.), to his big break at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference (Waterford, Conn.). There he began his life-changing collaboration with mentor-director Lloyd Richards, leading to nine original Broadway productions.