Let's begin with the story itself, Fences, part of the ten play cycle August Wilson created based on life in the ghetto of Pittsburgh, PA, where he grew up. I like to compare Wilson with playwright Ed Bullins who hailed from Philadelphia PA. There is no lack of depth in the story telling of both playwrights but Ed Bullins' North Philly dramatic narratives has more sordid stories and wretched language than Wilson, perhaps this is why Wilson was an On Broadway success while Ed entertained the Off Broadway crowds and the Black Arts Movement Theatre audiences.
But as per linguistics, Denzil's film utilized the word Nigguh more than any other term from the Black Arts Movement linguistic catalogue. But he was so skilled with the term due to his consummate acting that in the deep structure of his articulation we can hear motherfucker, bitch and host of other choice words from the basic vocabulary of North American Africans.
We congratulate Denzil Washington for bringing August Wilson's play Fences to the giant screen. Since we'd seen the play, we were somewhat familiar with the material. No one can touch Denzil's acting and his lead role in the film may garner him an Oscar or maybe an award from the Black Arts Movement. It was wonderful watching his acting, noticing every twitch of his lips, glance of his eyes, stares and the many silences he expressed to emphasize a point or emotion.
We are certain having that powerful August Wilson script made Denzil's work as actor and director much easier, and that of the other actors as well.
Fences is an absolutely riveting story of Black life in Pittsburgh in particular and America in general. We all know the pervasive racism and discrimination we've endured over the last half century, in particular, and the four centuries in general. Fences tackles the dreams deferred (Loraine Hansberry) and I Too, Sing America (Langston Hughhes). There is discussion of why a black man can't drive a garbage truck, why must black men only pick up the garbage? The main character is bold enough to complain to the boss but for his complaint he is rewarded with the driver's job, suggesting we must be assertive and transcend fear and passivity. Fedrick Douglas told us power concedes nothing without a demand, it never has and never will!
In the August Wilson story telling tradition, the film faithfully weaves its way through generational family trauma, mental illness, alcoholism, abandonment and abuse. It attempts to teach about parental responsibility but contradictions kill the moral pronouncements of the lead character in the eyes of his friend, wife and sons.
The son feels terrified because he feels the father is misplacing aggression upon him because of the father's failure to realize his dreams, so he tries to advise the son to lower his vision, not end up with shattered dreams.
The climax is when the husband informs the wife he has a woman pregnant. And then proceeds to tell her what a wonderful time he shared with the other woman. We heard women in the audience gasp! As men often do, he continued his confession about how the other woman made him laugh. Of course his wife of 18 years wanted to know why he didn't think she might want to have a good laugh with another man! Here the patriarchal mythology went wild. The husband did not dare challenge his wife's assertion of her human desires similar to the husbands. Those addicted to the Mythology of Pussy and Dick (Marvin X) can't imagine what is good for the goose is good for the gander! Ironically the baby mama dies in the hospital and the father brings the other woman's baby home to his wife who accepts the child but utters the most poignant line in the film, "Well, I got a baby but you ain't got no woman!"
We appreciated all the actors, especially the actress who portrayed the wife, and the young son was excellent and the child raised by the mother came across in flying colors especially in her interaction with the young son who come home to attend his father's funeral but had to be convinced by the child in a sing-song rap the two performed together.
This is a most beautiful film about family relationships and responsibility, especially for men and young men. It is about the need for men to recognize women are full human beings as they are, with dreams, aspirations and goals. Men need to wake up and smell the coffee!
Being true to the August Wilson script, the film contained its mystical moments throughout. The mentally ill brother of the husband was excellent as the guide who prepared the family for the pearly gates, even as he suffered with brain injury from serving in America's imperialist wars. The film was an excellent depiction of how a family accepts a mentally ill relative. Since I know no Black family who does not suffer such a personality, it will do well for all families to see this film. Thank you so much, Denzil and the entire cast. Thank you ancestor August Wilson for your wonderful play about Black Lives Matter! Black Love Matters!
“Fences,” part of August’s celebrated 10-part, decade-by-decade Century cycle, ought to have been made decades ago. It nearly was once, but Wilson’s insistence that a black director make it was deemed impractical by a backward Hollywood.
So Washington’s “Fences,” the first big-screen adaption of any of Wilson’s plays, is righting a wrong. The upside to the timing is that it would be difficult imagining better performers than Washington and Viola Davis, who starred together in a 2010 Broadway revival.
Wilson claimed to have never seen or read Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” before writing “Fences,” but the two works are undeniably linked in their grand, wrenching portraits of bone-tired mid-century American men coming to the realization of how little their lifetime of work has gotten them.
Maxson, an illiterate former Negro League baseball star who spent 15 years in prison, is a nine-to-five, blue-collar patriarch in loud revolt against a life that’s ground him down. With almost unrelenting bombast, he’s at war with the racism that’s boxed him in his whole life, with the changing world around him and with his own mortality. Feeling the devil near, Maxson is building a fence to keep him out — though there are other reasons he’s closing himself off. “I ain’t goin’ easy,” he swears while clutching a bottle to an imagined but palpably present devil. No one would doubt his resolve.
The other characters operate in reaction to the verbal force that is Maxson. First and foremost is his wife, the demure but formidable Rose (Viola Davis), who gradually moves from the kitchen toward the center of the film. She’s a figure of devotion whose own pains and regrets don’t spill out until her climactic speech: “I planted myself inside you and waited to bloom,” she tells Maxson. It’s a knockout moment, delivered by a blistering Davis with tears and snot smeared across her face.
The heart of the drama, though, is its father-son story. Jovan Adepo plays Cory, whose college hopes rest on his football skills. Maxson lectures him again and again: “The white man ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football noway,” he tells him.
Washington’s performance is titanic, surely one of the best of his career. Maxson’s deluge of dialogue — all its tale tales, braggadocio and pain — just flows out of him.
Washington keeps almost entirely to the play’s settings, but the most notable exception is its first scene where Maxson and his friend Jim Bono (a soulful Stephen McKinley Henderson) ride on the back of a garbage truck, up and down Pittsburgh’s hills, while Maxson rails against the lack of black drivers.
It’s an indelible image, and perhaps “Fences” could have used a few more such flourishes. The other obvious visual attempt — a handful of wordless montages — is a misstep, out of sync with the rest of the film. “Fences” may never lose the look and sound of a play, but Washington’s close-up focus on the characters only heightens the dignity Wilson bestowed on them.
“Fences,” a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “thematic elements, language and some suggestive references.” Running time: 139 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.