George C. Wolfe is one of the great storytellers of the stage and screen, which is why it was only fitting that the writer and director of theatrical and film productions was at last month’s SCAD Savannah Film Festival to collect its Storyteller Award. Following a screening of his latest motion picture, Rustin — which tells the story of Bayard Rustin, the gay civil rights activist who organized the 1963 March on Washington, and is now streaming on Netflix — Wolfe joined yours truly in the Lucas Theatre to record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast.
Wolfe, 69, is known as a playwright for writing 1986’s The Colored Museum and co-writing 1992’s Jelly’s Last Jam. He also gained recognition as a theater director for the original Broadway productions of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Angels in America: Perestroika and a host of Broadway musicals, like 1996’s Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk, 2004’s Caroline, or Change and 2016’s Shuffle Along. His film directing credits include 2005’s Lackawanna Blues, 2008’s Nights in Rodanthe, 2017’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and 2020’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
He has been nominated 15 times for a Tony Award, winning five, for best direction of a play for Angels in America: Millennium Approaches in 1993, best play for Angels in America: Perestroika in 1994, best direction of a musical for Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk in 1996, best special theatrical event for Elaine Stritch at Liberty in 2002 and best play for Take Me Out in 2003. He was nominated for an Emmy, best directing for a limited series, for Lackawanna Blues in 2005. He has also been nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award for outstanding directing of a miniseries or TV film twice, once for Lackawanna Blues in 2006 — which resulted in a win — and for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in 2018.
The New York Times’s Ben Brantley described him as “a brilliant stage director — arguably the best now working in the American theater.” The Los Angeles Times declared, “There are few living talents who could be viewed as much of a New York theater institution.” Interview magazine said, “It would be difficult to overstate his status on Broadway.” Tony Kushner proclaimed that he is “the premier theater artist of my generation,” and those are just the quotes about his work in theater.
During this episode, Wolfe discusses growing up during segregation; discovering his passion for theater; helming the landmark Broadway production of Angels in America; transitioning from theater to film directing; working with the late Chadwick Boseman on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; why it was so important to him to tell the story of Bayard Rustin; plus much more!