The actors sit with the NBA legend and cultural commentator to discuss adapting August Wilson’s classic — the suddenly urgent ‘King Lear’ of African-American plays — “to inspire Americans to dismantle this tyrannical cycle.”
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” wrote Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina in 1873. Ninety years later, August Wilson said pretty much the same thing with his 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences. Wilson’s play, and Denzel Washington’s intense and riveting new film adaptation, out Dec. 25, examine the roots of unhappiness in a seemingly happy black family in Pittsburgh during the 1950s. These cultural roots, like Alex Haley’s famous novel, extend back through American history, revealing the insidious legacy that modern black families have inherited and how that legacy impacts their hopes, dreams and realities.
The Maxson family’s unhappiness results from a toxic mixture of the patriarch’s unapologetic hubris and the pressures of being raised black in a white society that marginalizes, degrades and oppresses anyone not in the mainstream. Troy Maxson (Washington) isn’t aware that while he battles for equality from the white society, he’s imposing the same tyrannical restrictions he’s struggling against on his own family. He has become the very enemy he’s fighting.
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