AFI Movie Club: FENCES – American Film Institute
Fences Film Still - Denzel Washington and Viola Davis


AFI Movie Club: FENCES

FENCES features the talent of AFI Life Achievement Award winner Denzel Washington and was honored with an AFI AWARD in 2016 as one of the best movies of the year. According to the official rationale, “Denzel Washington and Viola Davis’ thundering performances infuse lightning into the words of August Wilson’s iconic stage play, sparking emotion to leap from the screen and live in the heart. Washington’s sure direction adds layers of cinematic nuance to embrace a family that stands tall and together in a world demanding happiness and hardship be earned, not asked for — and responsibility resonate in the struggle to “take the crookeds with the straights.”

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FENCES – Reelgood

Watch filmmaker Ruben Santiago-Hudson announce FENCES:

Movie Trivia About FENCES

DID YOU KNOW? FENCES is based on the1985 Tony Award®, Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by August Wilson, who adapted his own work for the screen. Wilson, who died in 2005, received a posthumous Oscar® nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

DID YOU KNOW? When Paramount Pictures purchased screen rights to FENCES, August Wilson told the studio it was required to hire a Black director. According to Wilson, his demand was met with resistance stemming from a general assumption that a Black filmmaker could not handle a large production. However, the studio ultimately honored his request and hired Denzel Washington to take the helm.

DID YOU KNOW? Paramount Pictures initially acquired FENCES in 1987 as a vehicle to star Eddie Murphy in the role of Cory – who was played by Jovan Adepo in the 2016 film.

DID YOU KNOW? FENCES marked AFI Life Achievement Award recipient Denzel Washington’s second double-billing as director and producer, after his 2002 film ANTWONE FISHER. Washington’s work on FENCES earned him his seventh Academy Award nomination for Best Actor – including two previous wins for GLORY and TRAINING DAY – and his first Best Picture nomination.

DID YOU KNOW? AFI Life Achievement Award honoree Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprised their Tony Award®-winning roles of Troy and Rose Maxson from the 2010 Broadway stage revival of FENCES. James Earl Jones originated the role of Troy on Broadway.

DID YOU KNOW? Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner was initially slated to adapt August Wilson’s play for the screen, but the production ultimately decided to use the script Wilson wrote himself before his death in 2005.

DID YOU KNOW? When Denzel Washington was asked by producer Scott Rudin to direct the screen adaptation of FENCES, the actor declined so he could first perform in the 2010 Broadway revival. August Wilson’s script had made several significant cuts to the dialogue from the play, but Washington wanted his lines to be as close to the stage production as possible, and some of the play’s language was restored in the final film version.

DID YOU KNOW? Filming took place from spring to early summer of 2016 in Pittsburgh, PA. FENCES was playwright August Wilson’s sixth play of the 10-part series known as the “Pittsburgh Cycle,” in which all productions were centered around that city.

DID YOU KNOW? FENCES was made with a budget of $24 million and nearly tripled that amount in box-office grosses.

DID YOU KNOW? FENCES marked cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s fourth American feature film after a prolific career in Denmark.

DID YOU KNOW? Saniyya Sidney was just 10 years old when she made her feature film debut in two hit 2016 films, FENCES and HIDDEN FIGURES.

DID YOU KNOW? In addition to being honored by AFI as one of the best films of 2016, FENCES earned Viola Davis an Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actress – and additional nominations for Best Actor (Denzel Washington), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.


The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

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-Do you think Troy is justified in his behavior toward his family, given the unfair hurdles he faced in his younger days? How do the impediments of racism and poverty impact his relationships, and why does he seem unable to overcome them?
-A generation younger than his father, Cory has opportunities to pursue a path toward professional athletics through a college scholarship, but Troy refuses to support his son’s dream and actively prevents him from playing football. Why do you think Troy interferes with Cory’s success?
-In FENCES, Troy is unfaithful to his wife Rose and impregnates his mistress, Alberta, who dies in childbirth. Rose agrees to raise the child but remains emotionally estranged from her husband. Do you think Rose is empowered in her role of wife and mother, or does she also miss opportunities for advancement like Troy did in his youth? Does FENCES focus more on Troy’s sacrifices than Rose’s?
-FENCES depicts an African-American family in 1950s America before the Civil Rights Movement. What aspects of the film predict the coming changes in American culture, and what parts represent the older ways of life? What has changed, and what remains true today?
-Describe the friendship between Troy and Bono. How do their childhood memories explain their challenges in life and their concepts of manhood?
-Why does Troy hang on so tightly to the past, and why is it so difficult for him to embrace positive changes in the future? How does his resistance to progress unwittingly cause him to pass along the traumas of his childhood onto his son Cory?
-List the different kinds of real and metaphorical fences that are referenced in the film. How do they both protect and create hurdles for the characters, particularly Troy?
-Were you aware of the “color line” in American baseball, which officially excluded Black players from the Major League? How does this reflect the culture in which Troy was reared, and how do sports represent division and equality in the film? What racial barriers do you see in our world today?
-How would you rate FENCES?

Watch this exclusive video from the AFI Archive with Life Achievement Award recipient Denzel Washington who discusses making FENCES:

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