“Some people build fences to keep people out…and other people build fences to keep people in”
Still one of my favorite quotes from the prolific writer that is August Wilson. Denzel Washington has taken to task to transform the words of all 10 of August Wilson’s plays into films, and Fences is the debut of this adventure.
Fences, set in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania follows the journey of Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) and Rose Maxson (Viola Davis) an African-American married couple in the 1950’s. Troy has been beaten down by life and dreams deferred and he spends his days working as a garbage collector alongside his long time friend, Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson). We see an unfolding of what manhood is and how it affects the only woman in this story, Rose. She is and continues to be an incredible character giving the audience the journey to womanhood. Their sons Cory (Jovan Adepo) and Lyons (Russell Hornsby) are fighting for a dream, a way out and the demons of their father’s past.
In Fences, Wilson reminds us that these people are “fenced off”. They are segregated and institutionalized due to lack of opportunities. Troy’s brother, Gabe/Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), a WWII Vet who is mentally ill is the embodiment of that institutionalization yet through him we see empathy. He reminds us that we all must face judgement day.
On Christmas Day, I took to the movie theater with excitement having read and seen the play several times, including the 2010 Revival Broadway production featuring Davis and Washington. Cinematically, the film still gives the sensation of watching a play. The blocking is very stage like and the scenes have long blackout transitions between them. For a 15-second video stimuli generation, I wondered if this form of cinematic dramatization would be appreciated. The preservation of the art of theater brought to film in this way by Washington for me was inspiring.
Denzel and Viola are a powerhouse and watching this film is a wonderful reminder of how beautiful August Wilson’s writing is, how poignant it is, how timeless it is and the importance of his work for all people, but specifically people of color. This film I believe challenges our generation to be still for 2 hours and 19 minutes and really listen. Once you give over to being “entertained” and truly take in the incredible performances of this cast breathing life into these expressions of the Black experience you will be transported and transformed.
Fences is now playing in U.S. theaters. Let me know what you thought about the film in the comments section!