Richard Wesley (born July 11, 1945) is an African-American playwright, and screenwriter for television and cinema. He is an associate professor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in the Rita and Burton Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing.
Wesley was born in Newark, New Jersey, to George and Gertrude Wesley, and grew up in that city's Ironbound section. Following high school he studied playwriting and dramatic literature at Howard University, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1967.
He first achieved renown with the production by the New York Shakespeare Festival of his 1971 play Black Terror, which portrayed the story of a black revolution that was to take place in "the very near future". Clive Barnes in The New York Times described the play as a "winner" that "makes the case for black revolution and against black revolution." Wesley was recognized with the Drama Desk Award for the 1971–72 season as most promising playwright for Black Terror, which earned him a $100 check from the president of Ticketron.
In 1975, Wesley created The Past Is the Past, a drama about a black man who meets the father who had abandoned him many years before. The play was revived in 1989 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn's Billie Holiday Theatre, starring John Amos and Ralph Carter.
Wesley earned a substantial amount of money writing the screenplays for the 1974 film Uptown Saturday Night and the following year's Let's Do It Again, both of which starred Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier.
His 1978 play The Mighty Gents tells the story of the members of a gang that had ruled the Central Ward of Newark having conquered their rivals the Zombies, who are now in their 30s and left only with the recollections of their past successes.
Wesley's 1989 play The Talented Tenth takes its name from W. E. B. Du Bois's seminal 1903 article, The Talented Tenth, that described the likelihood of one in ten black men becoming leaders of their race in the world, through methods such as continuing their education, writing books, or becoming directly involved in social change. The play features six successful graduates of Howard University — among them a realtor, advertising agent, a middle manager at a Fortune 500 firm and a Republican — who have reaped the benefits of their success, but feel the guilt of betraying their origins. Wesley had originally considered including the character of Essex Braxton from The Mighty Gents, who had achieved financial success in loan sharking and prostitution after leaving the gang, but dropped the idea as too artificial. The play was recognized with six awards, including for dramatic production of the year and best playwright, at the 17th annual AUDELCO Recognition Awards which were established by the Audience Development Committee to honor excellence in New York African American Theatre.
- The Black Terror (1971)
- The Mighty Gents (1978)
- The Talented Tenth (1989)
- Uptown Saturday Night (Warner Brothers, 1974)
- Let's Do It Again (Warner Brothers, 1975)
- Native Son (American Playhouse, Cinecom, 1984)
- Fast Forward (Columbia Pictures, 1985)
- Murder Without Motive (NBC, 1991)
- Mandela and De Klerk (Showtime, 1997)
- Bojangles (Showtime, 2000)
Television series contributions
Awards and honors
- Galant, Debra. "Look Homeward", The New York Times, September 17, 2000. Accessed September 22, 2008.
- Freedman, Samuel G. "THEATER; One Struggle Over, Attention Turns to Guilt", The New York Times, October 29, 1989. Accessed September 22, 2008. "Still, it was far easier for Mr. Wesley to perceive his subject and themes than to penetrate them. Although he grew up in a stable, working-class family in Newark and graduated from Howard University, the very hatchery of the black elite, his earlier plays dealt almost exclusively with street life and militant politics."
- Barnes, Clive. "Theater: 'Black Terror'; Wesley Turns Out a Gripping First Play", 'The New York Times, November 11, 1971. Accessed September 22, 2008.
- Staff. "51 AWARDS MADE BY DRAMA DESK; Jason Miller Among 14 in 'Most Promising' Category", The New York Times, September 27, 1972. Accessed September 22, 2008.
- Gussow, Mel. "'My Characters Are Trying To Be Somebody'; 'The Mighty Gents'", The New York Times, April 16, 1978. Accessed September 22, 2008.
- Fraser, C. Gerald. "'Talented Tenth' and 'Sheba' Dominate Theater Awards", The New York Times, November 23, 1989. Accessed September 22, 2008.