“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”
– August Wilson, Fences
The 89th Academy Awards are this Sunday, February 26, 2017, and Fences, a critically acclaimed play that was was made into a movie, has been nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture. Fences’ writer, August Wilson, has been posthumously nominated for a Writing (Adapted Screenplay) award. In 1987 his play Fences was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as the Tony Award for Best Play.
With several awards already under its belt, it’s no surprise that Fences‘ storyline has been just as powerful on the big screen as it’s been on stage. According to the Oscars’ website, the synopsis of Fences is as follows:
“Troy Maxson, a former star player in the Negro Leagues, lives with his wife Rose and teenage son Cory in Pittsburgh in 1957. Troy is bitter about missing the integration of professional baseball, and his caustic attitudes toward life and race relations taint his relationship with Cory, an aspiring football player.”
One of my all-time favorite actors, Denzel Washington, already the recipient of two Academy Awards, is both the director and star of Fences. This year, for his portrayal of Troy Maxson in Fences, Washington has been nominated for the award Actor in a Leading Role, while Viola Davis, who plays his wife Rose, has been nominated for the award Actress in a Supporting Role. Actor Jovan Adepo plays their son Cory, and Stephen Henderson plays Troy’s friend Jim Bono. Interestingly enough, together Washington, Davis, and Henderson all starred in the Broadway production of Fences. In 2010 Washington and Davis each received Tony Awards for their lead roles, and Henderson was nominated for a Tony Award for Featured Actor in a Play.
It was good that I knew in advance that Fences was first a play because I anticipated more dialogue rather than action sequences. The acting, of course, was beyond superb, and I agree wholeheartedly with the nominations that Denzel Washington and Viola Davis received for their roles.
Fences is a powerful reminder of a day gone by, where households were dominated by strong patriarchs rather than the modern day standard of spouses being equals. While the character Troy without a doubt loves his wife Rose, his expectations of marriage are far different than the expectations of today, and Rose, who is the dutiful wife to the extreme, tolerates so much more than a wife in today’s era would ever tolerate.
It’s evident throughout the movie that Troy’s life has been unbearably difficult at times, but are the hardships he’s endured a legitimate excuse for his behavior toward his wife and son? The movie made me think of Langston Hughes’ poem Harlem, which asks, “What Happens to a Dream Deferred?” Troy seems stuck; he can’t reconcile his past or move forward. The movie highlights the paradox that sometimes parents, while trying their best to give their children better lives, end up finding fault with them because their kids want more than what they as parents ever dreamed of for them. Is it right to blame the kids for wanting to make something of themselves? The tension between Troy and Cory runs deep, and viewers will understand both characters’ perspectives. Troy is practical to a fault while it’s completely apparent why Cory would want to pursue his own dreams.
My friend Ethan, who attended the movie with me, commented, “Overall I liked the film. It was good for me because it’s not a film I would actually ever go see on my own. It was very visceral and real, and I could tell it was based on a play because there’s lots of dialogue. I could almost picture the set of the Broadway show as I watched the movie. It reminded me of an Arthur Miller play; not so much that it was a tragedy, but that it was the story of the average working man that went so deep into the life of the main character, showing his wants and dreams along with highlighting his weaknesses and flaws.”
Movie times: click here
Director: Denzel Washington
Actors: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson
Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references
Running Time: 2 hours 19 minutes