‘FENCES,’ and the complicated relationship between father and son


Preston Barta // Editor

Raising children is arguably the central experience of life and the truest source of self-awareness. We all want what’s best for our children. We struggle to impart in them our best ideals, and hope they become good people in turn. However, sometimes we can become numb and ignorant of how our actions can affect the growth of our children.

Denzel Washington’s latest directed film, FENCES, covers a lot of ground, including family struggles and race relations in the 1950s. Washington plays Troy Maxson, a father and sanitation worker who once dreamed of being a big-time baseball player. On that premise, because Troy was born before the sport allowed black players, it causes him to instigate conflict as a result. Thus complicating the relationship between him and his son Cory (Jovan Adepo), which draws the rest of the story tight with its gravity.

Of course, every relationship is different, but you’ll often find small threads of commonality. What’s recognizable in the relationship between Troy and his teenage son are the traits we inherit from our parents.

Adepo (THE LEFTOVERS), who stopped in Dallas recently on a promotional tour for the film, would like to think Cory inherited all of Troy’s good qualities by the end of the narrative.

“His strong will, his personality and larger-than-life essence are some of the things I would like to think he inherited,” Adepo said. “However, because Cory lost out on his opportunity [of playing college football] like Troy lost out [with baseball], I also think it’s very possible that he could develop some of that resentment.”

Our video interview with Jovan Adepo:

In the film, Troy describes his own father as the kind of man that would “eat two chickens and leave you the wing,” later characterizing his old man as the devil himself. It’s one of FENCES’ more intense conversations, with the camera slowly pulling in on Washington’s face in his description. As the film pushes on, this dark rumination reflects back on Troy, adding more depth as you realize how much Troy’s treatment of Cory resembles the way he himself was raised.

Despite Troy’s crudity and distrust with the seeds of the Civil Rights era being planted, Adepo points out how Troy is who brings all the characters together.

“There’s a new hope for each of the characters by the time the credits roll. The title itself, FENCES, and what it means is as Stephen Henderson’s character (who portrays Troy’s good friend and co-worker) explains: it keeps the good in and the bad out,” Adepo said. “You have to handle both sides of the fence as they come.”

Stephen McKinley Henderson (left), Denzel Washington and Jovan Adepo star in “Fences.” Courtesy of Paramount.

In one of the film’s final and most pivotal scenes, Cory is reminded of a statement Troy would tell him: “You got to take the crookeds with the straights.” It’s the moment when Cory realizes that, like his father, he could not fulfill his own dreams. The phrase highlights the notion that we have to accept life’s misfortunes like the good fortunes.

“It’s something to be said about handling difficulties in your life. People always run away from them, but the only way you can get past it is to face it,” Adepo said. “You’re never going to get anywhere trying to avoid what you cannot control, and I believe that was Cory’s problem.”

While the late playwright and screenwriter August Wilson centers FENCES on a black family in the 1950s, his specificity of the characters and central theme are universal. Ultimately, it’s a story about family and the hardships we encounter. Everyone has a family and a particular member whom they may not always agree with, like Cory and Troy.

In spite of how family trials can cause you to feel defeated, as Adepo declares, “from defeat comes another opportunity to succeed.”

FENCES opens nationwide on Christmas Day.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.