Julius Tennon on the importance of August Wilson, ‘Giving Voice’ and working with wife, Viola Davis
The co-founder of actor / producer and JuVee Productions says he and Davis may come on stage together in the future
It's almost time for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom to debut on Netflix, and the highly anticipated film is likely to invite a whole new audience into the world of August Wilson.
theGrio caught up with Julius Tennon, co-founder of JuVee Productions, to discuss Giving Voice, a documentary we consider important if you are to truly understand the power and impact of Wilson's productive work.
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Read more: Viola Davis calls Chadwick Boseman "my baby" during the virtual preview of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
The project was recently published on Netflix. The film, which follows Wilson's legacy and its annual monologue competition that attracts thousands of high school students to win their chance to appear on Broadway, was made by Tennon and his wife Viola Davis along with John Legend through their JuVee Productions -Banner produced. Mike Jackson and Ty Stiklorius for their Get Lifted Film Co.
The table of contents reads:
The powerful film follows the emotional journey of six students entering the high-stakes August Wilson Monologue Competition, an event that highlights the work of one of America's preeminent playwrights. The national event brings Wilson's work such as Fences and The Piano Lesson to public school students pursuing careers in the performance arts. Entrusted to the challenging and rewarding competitive process, students are encouraged to explore themselves and the world around them through the monologues from Wilson's Century Cycle of Ten Pieces, which focus on the experience of blacks in America.
“August Wilson is important. He is one of our leading playwrights in the country. He's up there with all the other greats, ”says Tennon during our exclusive interview.
Wilson's works include King Hedley II and Fences, which starred on Broadway with Davis, who won a Tony Award for each of their leading roles. She also starred in Wilson's Seven Guitars on Broadway and won an Oscar in 2016 for repeating the character of Rose Maxson in the film version of Fences.
“In terms of who JuVee is and who Viola is, if you think about all the big moments in her career - I didn't know her in 1997, I didn't know her when she made Seven Guitars, but she did and has a Tony -Get nomination for it. By 1999 we had just started dating and then we're at the Tony Awards and she wins her first Tony for King Hedley II. It was just an advantage for us to be a part of it because Wilson’s work is for her career was so important and perfect for us to be involved and we immediately jumped on. "
Actors Julius Tennon (L) and Viola Davis attend the 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on January 30, 2016 in Los Angeles, California., (Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images for Turner)
Tennon insists that part of the power of Wilson's work lies in the way the characters he created represented black people we all know and love. His 10-game collection also offers opportunities for black actors of a certain age.
"These characters have a pathology of who they are, where they come from, their backgrounds, all of their clutter, all of their kind of weirdness. What we see when we sit back and watch is that we see ourselves or see someone, who is like someone we know. It's familiar. That's the nice thing about August Wilson, because he immerses himself in these characters and they tell very quickly. These characters are alive in our heads because we cross their paths every day ", he explains, "There is excitement there for black actors of a certain age, there is an abundance of beautiful roles and beautiful work."
The world is finally going to see some of those beautiful works by Chadwick Boseman, Michael Potts, Colman Domingo, and Glynn Turman starring alongside Davis in the film adaptation of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a play Wilson released in 1982 as part of The Pittsburgh Cycle series. The 10-piece collection sheds light on the plight of blacks in each decade of the 20th century.
Wilson died in 2005 at the age of 60, so fans can only wonder how he would have seen the new millennium.
“It would have been amazing to see what that would have been and it would have been a beautiful thing. But by August it was in full bloom, leaving a treasure trove and legacy that will last forever, ”says Tennon.
Read more: POWER COUPLE: Viola Davis and husband Julius Tennon make first deal with Amazon
The students we meet at Giving Voice were fortunate enough to spend time with Tennon, and he made sure he instilled some of the wisdom he had soaked up during his long acting career.
“You have to love this craft. It cannot be anything else. I always tell young people that you have to do it for love and that you have to move on. It's like air. You can't breathe without being creative, ”he told them. "You just have to know that you are always on a journey, but it's worth it because you love what you do. It's not all or nothing. They'll make something of it either way, whether they become an actor or not . You just do the work you love. "
Since Tennon and Davis founded JuVee Productions ten years ago, it has been an artistic company developing and producing independent film, television, theater, VR, and digital content in all areas of narrative entertainment. They try to produce thrifty, but top notch, refined and character-based stories, with an emphasis on producing narrative from a variety of emerging and established voices, and Tennon is at the forefront.
“Running a company is more than an idea. If there is one thing you want to do, you can't do everything. I've learned to prioritize and I've prioritized this company for the past decade. I did a bit of work on How To Get Away With Murder and played Ron Biles in the Simone Biles Lifetime movie. I have three different roles in front of me; Not big roles, but I'll still come in there and act now and then, ”he continues.
"I can even get back on stage because that's my real love. Maybe Viola and Viola will do a two-handed stage thing at some point. We talked about it. Maybe when things slow down. We feel like we're three years long bloom because we have all this great content with her taking responsibility for beautiful work. After that, she will work less and we can focus on doing something theatrical. I still have a zeal for it and I love it . "
Viola Davis in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (Netflix)
Given the ongoing racist reckoning in Hollywood promising to change the landscape, other production companies and studios appear to be replicating some of the advances JuVee has made. Tennon says he plans to stay on course.
"I think everything was a step forward, even though we've been in our corporate process for 10 years out of consideration for Viola's career. Meanwhile, Viola has become a global star, and as her star has risen and her voice has risen we have more opportunities to go to the gatekeepers and bring up the kind of projects we think are someone with Viola's talent, then we talk about being a voice for the voiceless and bringing those stories that we haven't seen yet He explains.
“You don't wait for people to do what you can do for you. I see things open up, but I also think individually as black production companies and as artists and things like that, you know you have to go in and you have to see what you really want to do, and then do it with the people who want to do it to you. It's always hard work. None of this is easy, but I always think of quality and collaboration, as well as family, trust and Integrity. "
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Julius Tennon's contribution on the importance of August Wilson, "Giving Voice" and working with Ms. Viola Davis first appeared on TheGrio.
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