Fences, a 2016 film written by August Wilson and directed by Denzel Washington, features the troubled lives of a black family living in Pittsburgh in the 1950s and 1960s. Often presented as a homogenous group sharing a single cultural identity, black Americans at this time were diverse with different levels of discontent, ambitious, goals, and dreams. This diversity was captured well in this film, as it contrasted the ambitions of Troy and Cory Maxson, as well as a number of other black characters, each with their own personal struggles that exacerbate the racial barriers that oppress them in various ways.
With brilliant acting all-around and an intimate setting, the characters and their relationships were the focus of the film. Even when they told vivid stories, there were on cut scenes. The stories told by the characters, especially Troy, comprised much of the plot. I felt that Denzel Washington, Viola Davis and Mykelti Williamson were the actors that acted out of their minds. In particular, Mykelti Williamson who brought out empathy from the audience through his mentally disabled character. Bono was the supporting character of Gabe. He helped the plot flow smoothly. Bono and Troy’s intimate relationship was depicted throughout the play several times and one of this times was when Bono suddenly realized Troy was cheating on Rose just by the way Troy reacted to Rose. I also believe August Wilson placed a white man to be Troy’s best friend to foreshadow the fact that social equality will improve in the future.
One of the outstanding qualities of the film was the use of symbolism, both in the dialog and the mise en cine, or the usage of stage and scenery props and environments. Of course, fences served as the primary symbol, as both an unfinished project for the men of the household and the barriers that separated the characters from one another and from a society dominated by a white majority. Fascinatingly, the fences around the actors had a different purpose for each character and each character’s lives changed around the fences. For Rose the fences meant her love and closure for the family. This symbolized Troy’s commitment to Rose’s marriage because he lacks the effort to finish the fence throughout the movie. Rose dropped a rose, the flower, that she received from Gabe while holding the fence in another scene that I believe showed symbolism and foreshadowed the death of someone because the fence symbolized love and the rose fell down on the fence.
Perhaps the most culturally relevant and inspiring themes in the film was the use of sports as a measure of progress. Troy was a great baseball player, but never had the opportunity to perform in the majors. Throughout the film, he believes that the same sort of racial barriers would keep Cory from playing football professionally if given the opportunity. Cory and others, including Rose, disagree, arguing that these specific racial barriers, or fences, had largely taken down. Largely by Troy’s doing, Cory never plays football at even the collegiate level. In the middle of the film, Troy goes off on a rant about how he was better than Jacky Robinson at baseball and would have been one of the greatest to ever play. The viewer, then, cannot be certain about whether Troy is intentionally holding Cory back to keep him from meeting the same racial barriers that Troy faced or if Troy is acting out of jealousy and resentment.
Nonetheless, Cory is able to prove himself by becoming a corporal in the marines. Just as Troy was able to help tear down his own local racial barriers by becoming Pittsburgh’s first black garbage truck driver, Cory helps tear down racial barriers in the military.