By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
Award-winning actor Denzel Washington is behind a new initiative to bring the late playwright August Wilson’s work to the big screen, along with a campaign to foster unity within the Black community. The play “Fences” has been made into a movie, with many of the original actors from the Broadway production playing their respective parts.
“Fences” is a 1983 play by Wilson that is set in the 1950s in Pittsburgh. It is the sixth play in Wilson’s ten-part “Pittsburgh Cycle” that explores the Black experience, while examining race relations, among other themes. The plot centers around Washington, who plays a former baseball player named Troy Maxson who creates tension in his family when he denies his teenage son’s dream of playing college football and comes home with the baby he had through an affair. The teenage son whose name is Corey is played by Jovan Adepo, and the wife Rose is played by Viola Davis. Other actors include Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby and Stephen Henderson in their respective Broadway roles.
The unique aspect of this widely anticipated Paramount film is that Washington, along with collaborators, is launching an “Across the Fence: Telling our Stories and Building Strong Bonds” initiative that aims to provide families a chance to upload videos of tributes to either relatives that have passed away or living relatives where there may have been a “fence” between one another, and now people can openly share sentiments that may have long been silent.
Press materials for the website for “Across the Fence” (www.acrossthefence.co) states: What if families used this Fences movement to build stronger bonds? What if around the country, hundreds of sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, mothers and fathers, mentors, friends and more and more shared the type of messages with loved ones that they’ve never shared before? Or interviewed their loved ones for the first time, asking questions they’ve never asked before?
That is what “Across the Fence” is all about. Around the country this holiday season, in support of “Fences,” folks will be sharing interviews, family photos, original artwork, song and more with loved ones. You can submit these messages, interviews and more on this website, and share them on social media using the hash tag #ACROSSTHEFENCE.
Washington recently spoke during a conference call hosted by Joshua DuBois of Values Partnerships that included partners and media representatives to discuss the plan. The Rev. Otis Moss of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, spoke during the call and voiced his admiration for Wilson. “I am a huge fan of August Wilson. He has shifted and changed my theology,” Rev. Moss said. “Along with Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and others, he used the Blues in a special way to mark memory and hope for African Americans.” He added that “Fences” is about a man placing a fence around his life to be able to lay claim to his own particular humanity. “Wilson speaks to our condition and at the same time, the message is universal. I believe that this movie will bless, enthrall and enlighten so many people.”
Washington, as well, had praise for Wilson, whom he met in the 1980’s when he saw the play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” by Wilson. “Wilson is one of the great playwrights in American history, among [Arthur] Miller, [Tennessee] Williams, [Eugene] ONeill,” Washington said. “This is a great play to bring to the screen, and it just so happens that a few years ago, I did the play on Broadway.” When asked if he had made many changes to the original play, Washington said: “The most important thing was to stay out of the way. Don’t try to fix it; the only way to know if it transfers is to do it. You really don’t know until you get it in front of an audience, and we have had tremendous response from the test audiences.”
Barbara Williams-Skinner, President of the Skinner Leadership Institute and formerly of the Congressional Black Caucus, was grateful to see “Fences” on Broadway. She was also on the conference call. “We are in for a treat when it comes to the screen. I needed a break, and this call did it for me. I encourage my colleagues in the faith community to engage in the campaign. I never knew my father, and when he died, there were so many things that I wanted to say to him,” she said. “I will be writing a letter to my father. We need to tell our stories, our beauty and our challenges. That is what “Fences” does, and there is nothing more exciting than this campaign.”
Other partners in the “Across the Fence” initiative include Tim King and Chicago’s Urban Prep Academy, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Values Partnerships, Fathers Incorporated, Morehouse College, Howard University and Campaign for Black Male Achievement, among others. For more information about “Across the Fence,” visit www.acrossthefence.co.
The movie opens nationwide on Christmas Day, December 25, and I am equally as excited to see it on the big screen. I went to New York specifically to see Davis and Washington in the stage play a few years ago, for which both actors won Tony Awards.