The Piano Lesson (film)

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The Piano Lesson
The Piano Lesson cover.jpg
Based on The Piano Lesson
by August Wilson
Screenplay byAugust Wilson
Directed by Lloyd Richards
Starring Charles S. Dutton
Alfre Woodard
Carl Gordon
Tommy Hollis
Music byDwight Andrews
Stephen James Taylor
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
Producers August Wilson
Brent Shields
Cinematography Paul Elliott
EditorJim Oliver
Running time95 minutes
Production companiesCraig Anderson Productions
Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions
Distributor CBS
Republic Pictures
Original networkCBS
Picture formatColor
Audio format Stereo
Original releaseFebruary 5, 1995 (1995-02-05)

The Piano Lesson is a 1995 American television film based on the play The Piano Lesson by August Wilson. Produced by Hallmark Hall of Fame, the film originally aired on CBS on February 5, 1995. Directed by Lloyd Richards, the film stars Charles S. Dutton and Alfre Woodard, [1] [2] and relies on most of its cast from the original Broadway production. [3]


On September 30, 2020, it was announced that Denzel Washington is planning a new film adaptation for Netflix. Filming is expected to begin Summer 2021 in Pittsburgh. [4]


Boy Willie (Charles S. Dutton) and his friend Lymon (Courtney B. Vance) travel from Mississippi to Pittsburgh, where he wishes his sister Berniece (Alfre Woodard) will give him the family's heirloom piano so that he can sell it to buy land from Mr. Sutter (Tim Hartman), a descendant of the family that once owned Willie's own ancestors as slaves. The piano itself had at one time belonged to the wife of the original Sutter, the white former owner of their family... and decades earlier, Berniece and Boy Willie's grandfather had, at the slave master's instructions, carved the black family's African tribal history and American slave history into the piano's surface.

When Boy Willie arrives, his Uncle Doaker (Carl Gordon) tells Willie that Berniece won't part with the piano. Berniece's boyfriend Avery (Tommy Hollis) and her Uncle Wining Boy (Lou Myers) also attempt for reasons of their own to get Berniece to sell. As selling the piano would be like turning her back on their people and their past, Berniece continues to refuse.



DVD Verdict wrote that the "excellent writing leaps off the screen." While noting that most TV films seem geared "towards the lowest common Nielsen family demographic", they write that "something crafted, filled with inordinate drama and rich, dimensional characters just blares across the airwaves, filling up your deepest, hungry cinematic aesthetic," and that this recognition is the case for the Hallmark Hall of Fame adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize winning play The Piano Lesson. They noted that Wilson has been long known for "profound, deeply moving portraits of African Americans in the United States," and that he "understands the issues facing minorities better than most modern playwrights do." They called the film a "brilliant analog," and a "fable of magic realism." [3]

TV Guide wrote that the film is "a wrenching but flawed cable adaptation of August Wilson's play," and that while the film was another Wilson "folk tale about the legacy of slavery," that "Sadly, this particular production fails to make any psychological or ectoplasmic ghosts come alive for the audience." They noted this was not because the film did not make the playwright's message clear, the problem was in "its obviousness" in that Wilson belabored his points. [2]

Awards and nominations

Date of CeremonyAwardCategoryRecipientResult
September 10, 1995 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Television Movie Richard Welsh, Craig Anderson, August Wilson, Robert Huddleston, Brent Shields Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie Charles S. Dutton Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Alfre Woodard Nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special Lloyd Richards Nominated
Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special August WilsonNominated
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Limited Series or Movie Michael C. Moore, David E. Fluhr, John Asman, Sam BlackNominated
Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special Vicki SanchezNominated
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Limited Series or Movie Jim OliverNominated
January 21, 1996 Golden Globe Award Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Charles S. DuttonNominated
February 24, 1996 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Alfre WoodardWon
April 6, 1996 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special Won
Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special Charles S. DuttonNominated
Outstanding Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special Nominated
May 6,1996 Peabody Award N/A CBS and Craig Anderson Productions, Inc., in association with Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions, Inc.Honored
1996 Cinema Audio Society Awards Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Movie of the Week, Mini-Series or SpecialDavid E. Fluhr, John Asman, Sam Black, Michael C. MooreWon

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  1. Bernadette McCallion (2012). "The Piano Lesson (1995)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times . Baseline & All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on November 4, 2012. Retrieved April 9, 2011.
  2. 1 2 "The Piano Lesson". TV Guide . Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  3. 1 2 Bill Gibron (February 12, 2003). "review: The Piano Lesson". DVD Verdict . Retrieved April 9, 2011.
  4. Buchanan, Kyle (September 30, 2020). "First Look: Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'". New York Times . Retrieved October 3, 2020.