The film Fences was director by Denzel Washington and released in late 2016. It is based on a play by the same name, written by August Wilson. Fences won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Viola Davis. The film displays themes of family, abuse, and forgiveness.
Set in 1950’s Pittsburgh, the film centers on a low-class African-American family as they deal with racism, financial issues, and crumbling relationships. The Maxson family consists of Troy, played by Denzel Washington, his wife Rose, played by Viola Davis, their son Cory, Troy’s brother Gabe, and Troy’s two illegitimate children, Lyons and Raynell. Troy is a garbage collector, who once had talent as a baseball player but could not join the major leagues due to being black. Rose is a stay at home mother who desperately tries to keep the family together. Cory attends high school and has a promising future as a football player, though his father disapproves. Gabe is a veteran who sustained a head injury during World War II and consequently is left mentally impaired. Lyons struggles with making money as a musician and often borrows money from Troy. Raynell is born later on in the film due to Troy’s affair with another woman.
Throughout the film, Troy Maxson exhibits controlling and sometimes abusive behavior towards his family. He highly disapproves of Cory’s dream of playing professional football and sabotages Cory’s chances of being recruited by not signing permission documents and forcing the coach to kick Cory off of the team. Troy rationalizes this by saying that Cory could never make it in a professional sport because of the color of his skin. This shows that Troy has internalized the notion that African-Americans cannot play sports from his own rejection by the major leagues. He may be trying to protect his son from the disappointment and pain of rejection, but whatever good intentions he may have had are overshadowed by the violence he exhibits towards Cory. The father and son regularly fight, most often when they try to build a fence together, hence the title of the film. It is after one of their most heated fights that Cory leaves home and joins the military. The two never see each other again and there is no reconciliation.
The theme of forgiveness comes almost entirely from Rose. She becomes estranged from Troy after a fight between them becomes violent when Troy tells Rose that he has cheated on her, resulting in his mistress becoming pregnant. After the mistress dies giving birth to a premature Raynell, Rose takes in the baby and raises her as her own. She finds it in her heart not to have resentment towards Raynell, thus forgiving the affair. After a time skip of several years, Cory returns home due to the death of Troy. He tells his mother that he does not want to attend the funeral but Rose and Raynell convince him to attend, and thus find forgiveness in Troy.
Fences is a deeply dramatic and emotional film that highlights the best and worst aspects of a struggling family.