The Piano Lesson

Watch The Piano Lesson

  • PG
  • 1995
  • 1 hr 40 min
  • 6.8  (489)

In the 1995 film adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "The Piano Lesson," viewers are transported to 1930s Pittsburgh, where a family argues over the fate of a valuable family heirloom. The film, directed by Lloyd Richards, boasts an impressive cast that includes Charles S. Dutton, Alfre Woodard, and Carl Gordon. Dutton plays Boy Willie, a young man who has recently arrived in Pittsburgh from Mississippi with a mission to sell a piano that his family has owned for generations. The piano has been intricately carved with images that tell the story of the family's enslaved ancestors and is said to be worth a substantial amount of money. Boy Willie hopes to use the proceeds from the sale to buy the land that his family once worked as slaves and establish himself as a successful farmer.

However, the piano's current owner is none other than Boy Willie's sister, Berniece (Woodard), who adamantly refuses to part with it. She and her uncle, Doaker (Gordon), believe that the piano represents their family's history and should not be sold off for financial gain. Berniece is particularly connected to the instrument, as it was frequently played by her mother, who died soon after Berniece was born. The piano also holds a painful memory for her, as it was the site of her father's murder when he attempted to steal it from the family's former slave owner.

As Boy Willie and Berniece's dispute over the piano intensifies, the film delves deeper into the complex issues of legacy, trauma, and identity. Boy Willie represents the younger generation's desire to let go of the past and create a new future for themselves, unencumbered by the scars of slavery. Berniece, on the other hand, clings to the piano as a tangible link to her family's history and actively works to preserve its memory. The piano serves as a symbol of the conflict between these two worldviews and the broader tension between the black community's desire for progress and their need to honor their past.

While the film's main conflict centers around the piano, it is not the only source of tension within the family. Berniece is also dealing with the recent death of her husband and struggles to connect with her young daughter, Maretha (played by Zelda Harris). Boy Willie's friend and accomplice, Lymon (played by Tommy Hollis), becomes involved in a romantic relationship with Berniece, further complicating the situation. Throughout the film, the various characters grapple with issues of love, loss, and the weight of history that shapes their lives.

Despite the heavy subject matter, the film features moments of humor and levity, particularly in the interactions between Boy Willie and Lymon, who provide much-needed comic relief. The film's strong performances, particularly from Woodard, who received an Academy Award nomination for her role, and Dutton, who brings a raw intensity to his portrayal of Boy Willie, anchor the story and bring emotional depth to the characters.

In addition to its exploration of complex themes, the film also showcases the rich history and culture of 1930s black Pittsburgh. The sets and costumes are meticulously designed to transport viewers to this time and place, and the film's soundtrack, composed by Branford Marsalis, features traditional African American spirituals and blues music, further immersing the audience in the era.

Overall, "The Piano Lesson" is a thought-provoking and emotionally resonant film that explores important themes of identity, legacy, and trauma. Its strong performances and attention to detail make it a standout entry in the genre of African American cinema.

The Piano Lesson is a 1995 drama with a runtime of 1 hour and 40 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.8.

The Piano Lesson
Where to Watch The Piano Lesson
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 40 min
  • IMDB Rating
    6.8  (489)