How do we define Black manhood? How do we interrogate the complexities of Black masculinity? What constitutes an inherited and/or lasting legacy? These are all questions that are discussed in the upcoming feature film Fences. Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, PA this film adaptation is based on the 1983 play by African-American playwright August Wilson. As a well-known play; is interesting to note that Wilson, before his passing, had expressed an interest in seeing the play as a movie. However, he did not consider any proposals unless it were to be directed by a Black man. This speaks to the importance of telling the Fences story from a Black male point of view, seeing that not only is the writer a Black man, but the central character(s) are Black men. Inspired by the influence and impact of such individuals as Malcolm X, movement’s like the Black Arts Movement, and the blues Wilson along with his experiences growing up in Pittsburgh played a significant role in his career as a writer and playwright. Wilson’s work, particularly Fences, plays a role in championing Black America by representing and dignifying African-American culture during a time when it was not otherwise acknowledged and/or appreciated.
Directed by and starring Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, Academy Award nominee Viola Davis and newcomer Jovan Adepo, Fences as a Black American story is sure to bring families together during this upcoming holiday season. As a possible snapshot into Wilson’s own family upbringing, Fences centers on Troy Maxson, a 53-year-old city garbage worker who struggles with providing for his family and moving on after not making it far as a baseball player. Fences is often viewed as a push-pull, father-son story, as the main conflict centers around the emotional and physical tension between Troy Maxson and his son Cory. The film in many ways demonstrates how Troy repeats the mistakes of his own father while raising Cory.
Therefore, Fences cinematically will offer a creative, visual experience into Black manhood and masculinity. This experience specifically asks the questions: What is a good man? What does it take to be a good man? And what is the duty of good man to his family? Considering the state of affairs during the setting of Wilson’s play Black men were constantly battling race-relations, equal access, and the opportunity to climb the leadership and power ladder. To revisit this story, via film, is quite timely because one may ask have things changed within race-relations, are fathers and sons still trapped in past struggles of survival, is there hope?
What is also intriguing about what Fences offers is a metaphorical reading of the fence. The fence is not simply just a physical structure, but has multiple meanings. Whether it’s the fence/barrier that Troy must climb to obtain higher rank as a sanitation driver, the strained fence that stands between Troy and his devoted, understanding wife Rose, or the emotional and complex fence/barrier between Troy and Cory, the fence transcends boundaries. More specifically, Troy’s perception of what is right or best for Cory speaks to a fence and or barrier that stands between the two and the lack of willingness to change or potentially make a better life. Also, the story told within Fences is not relegated to one time period; the struggles of the Maxson family cross time. As mentioned earlier although the setting of the play and the film takes place in the 1950s this story crosses generations. To be able to see the experiences of the men at different stages and ages sparks a conversation that the Black male experience is not monolithic. The men in this story seek love and acceptance, encounter sacrifice, work hard, and some even want to embrace change. To be able to look back at the past and correct the mistakes is a valuable tool to capitalize on future success.
Hopefully, Fences can be a family experience that takes on multiple tasks; the ability to explore the possible damage of “fences” to one’s self and the people around them, spark a dialogue about different life experiences, creating legacies, interrogate how the damaged dreams of one generation can potentially destroy the dreams of the next, and propose a type f healing from past wounds through the envisioning of a better future.
As the holidays quickly approach Fences is the perfect family movie as it hits theaters on Christmas Day 2016. See the trailer below to get a sneak peek into this powerful film.