Denzel Washington returns to the director’s chair for Fences

The iconic leading man is set to bring an acclaimed stageplay to the screen.

Poppy Doran


Denzel Washington chews scenery like most actors eat breakfast. So rejoice, then, that he’s going to be making multiple appearances on our screens in the latter parts of 2016. First, there’s going to be his starring role in Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven – the cover film of Little White Lies issue 66. A sequel to his shoot-em-up revenge saga, The Equalizer, is also going into production, pencilled in for release in the Autumn of 2016.

But it’s exciting to see that he’s laying down his trusty firearms this December with the period drama, Fences, which he also directs. Washington plays Troy Maxsom, a Pittsburgh-based trash collector whose failed dreams of professional baseball have left him angry at the world. It has all the ingredients of a searing snapshot of a struggling black family, set against the climate civil unrest in 1950s America.

August Wilson – who wrote the play on which the film is based in 1987 – is posthumously credited as the sole screenwriter, although Spielberg regular Tony Kushner was brought on to assist with the stage to screen adaptation process. While this is a touching tribute to this two-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, it also suggests that Washington is aiming to emulate the highly-acclaimed magic of the original stage version, as close to word-for-word as he can.

In an interview with Spin magazine in 1990, Wilson said he would only endorse a black director to usher his “Pittsburgh Cycle” to the cinema, calling for, “somebody talented, who understood the play and saw the possibilities of the film”. With much of the cast, including leads Washington and Viola Davis, reprising roles from the stage, Wilson’s wish appears to have been met in all senses.

This is a story which offers a commentary on the black experience in America, and Washington has previously kept questions of race and identity at the fore of his directorial work, receiving acclaim for his 2002’s exploration of child abuse, Antwone Fisher, and his 2007 tale of debating whiz, Melvin B Tolson, The Great Debaters. Fences is already being talked up by some outlets as a potential awards contender – perhaps Washington will next year snag his third Oscar, for his work behind as opposed to in front of the camera?

Boasting a predominantly African-American cast and crew, on-screen wife Viola Davis took to social media to say with regard to this achievement: “this is history”. She also praised her peer, calling him, “a great director, great actor, great man” while on location. It goes without saying that Wilson’s material appears to be in extremely capable hands. After all, if Viola Davis thinks you’re doing something right, you’re doing everything right.

Fences is set to open in US cinemas on 25 December

Published 22 Aug 2016

Tags: Denzel Washington Viola Davis

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