Denzel Washington and Viola Davis Stun Critics and Viewers Alike in Paramount’s Fences

It’s officially awards show season. 2017 kicked off with the 47th annual Golden Globe Awards earlier this month, where Paramount’s Fences kept up its momentum as one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year.

Washington’s character, Troy Maxson, is an embittered former baseball player and sanitation worker. Viola Davis plays his wife Rose, who ferociously protects her children, ideals, and convictions—which are challenged by her husband’s ego.

These performances garnered Washington and Davis Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor in a film and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.

For Davis, this was her fifth nomination—yet she walked off the stage at the Beverly Hills Hilton with her first Golden Globe award.

How did Davis’s role in Fences result in this career milestone?

Both Davis and Washington portray brutally honest characters that are scathing, tearful, and bedraggled by societal woes. Yet they’re also poised, passionate, and righteous, adroitly representing the characters from the late August Wilson’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by the same name.

Paramount took a risk by turning Wilson’s work into a major motion picture. And it paid off.

As Davis explained in her acceptance speech, “It’s not every day that Hollywood thinks of translating a play to screen,” said Davis. “It doesn’t scream ‘moneymaker.’ But it does scream ‘art.’ It does scream ‘heart.’”

Watch her full speech:

Fences premiered on Dec. 25, 2016, and earned over  at the box office on opening day—the third-highest Christmas Day gross of the year.

It earned a number of high-profile accolades, including a place on New York Film Critics Online’s top 12 films of 2016. Davis won Best Supporting Actress at the 22d annual Critics’ Choice Awards.

Oh, and the film is nominated for best picture at the Oscars (along with fellow Paramount blockbuster, Arrival). Davis and Washington are nominated for best actress in a supporting role, and best actor in a leading role, respectively. The film is also up for best Adapted Screenplay. See the full list of Oscar nominations here.

While it’s rare for theatrical adaptation to be nominated for an awards show, it has done so by seamlessly carrying over the sharp, multidimensional characters and frank dialogue that are hallmarks of top-notch theater over to the big screen.

Fences also revisits a significant historical era—one that eerily resonates today.

Maxson, his family, and the rest of the cast illuminate the day-to-day lives of Americans living in the Rust Belt. These characters are at the mercy of a withered economy, and work several jobs to survive.

This economic desperation mirrors what many Americans in poorer regions of the country are dealing with today. Yet Maxson, like many of his 2017 counterparts, is self-reliant and hardworking, if not gruff and flawed.

Part of Maxson’s anger revolves around his lost dreams of becoming a professional baseball player. By the time the major leagues start allowing African American players to try out, he’s too old.

Fences gives us a vivid look at race and class relations in Jim Crow-era Pittsburgh. Regardless of personal politics, it’s undeniable that the U.S. is still dealing with some of these issues.

The film’s combination of humanistic drama and sublime language invokes enthralling audience engagement. Watching Fences feels as though you’re sitting front-row at a Broadway theater, or playing ball in the Maxson family backyard.

The result? A timeless, cinematic hybrid with potential to keep critics and viewers talking for the rest of the year.


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