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Film Review: 'Fences' Metaphor for 20th Century Black Plight

by Todd A. Smith


(Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures)


Fence Around Life 


If one is knowledgeable about the Black struggle in America, then the film adaptation of August Wilson’s play “Fences” will not be a shocker.

Yes, movies have protagonists and antagonists, bad guys and good guys but society can often turn a good guy into a bad guy really quickly, especially when that guy was a Black man in the early 20th century.

In “Fences,” Troy (Denzel Washington) is every Black man of that era.

He is our father.  He is our grandfather.  He is our uncle and he is our great grandfather.

He was talented with tons of potential.

However, for Black men in the early 1900s, racism always trumped talent and potential.

Troy is such a talent that he deserved to be making thousands of dollars in Major League Baseball.

However, because of discrimination and color barriers he is reduced to picking up trash in the city of Pittsburgh for pennies.

His only accomplishment in life is being married to Rose (Viola Davis) for 18 years and producing a talented 17-year-old star athlete of a son in Cory (Jovan Adepo).

Despite Cory’s potential and Rose’s love, Troy’s only escape from the realities of life is through the bottle and through friendships outside of the home.

He does not want Cory to see his athletic hopes dashed like his were because of the color of his skin.

Troy instead wants to supply Cory with tough love and a dose a reality.

Cory’s father’s version of reality is that the White man will never let his son fulfill his potential even if he is better than his White counterparts.

As a matter of fact, the White man will not even let Troy and his best friend Bono (Stephen Henderson) drive the garbage trucks for the city because that job is reserved for the White man.

Most of the Black sanitation workers are even scared to speak up for their rights for fear of job termination and being considered a troublemaker.

However Rose and Cory see the change occurring in America in regards to race relations and increased opportunities for Blacks.

The question is will Troy allow his bitterness to ruin his relationship with his family or will he be able to change with the times?

“Fences” might actually be the best film of 2016.

Washington should receive Academy Award consideration in the categories of Best Actor and Best Director.

Additionally, Davis should definitely receive Academy Award consideration for her role as the strong wife and wise matriarch.

Washington’s performance is complex and polarizing.

While Troy can easily be considered an evil man because of the way he treats his wife and children, one has to understand his era.

To understand Troy, one has to understand the classic Langston Hughes poem, “A Dream Deferred.”

Many Black Americans of the early 20th century had their lives ruined and dreams snatched because of the ills of oppression and racial bias.

Black men in that era could not take their pain and frustration out on the White man, who was the source of their angst.

Therefore, many took out that frustration on their wife and kids.

Many buried their pain in the bottle.

And many were buried with their dreams permanently deferred.

They lived an existence with a fence around their lives and their potential.

Those fences were called racism, discrimination and oppression.

Their fence was called 20th century America.

Unfortunately, those fences still exist because they have not all been knocked down.


And the generation that worked so hard to tear down those fences never got to enjoy the fruit of their labor.






This article was published on Thursday 22 December, 2016.
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