Wednesday, September 28, 2016

FENCES, A Christmas Gift

I've written before that Hollywood's lack of inclusion and the need to embrace diversity is evident in how long it took any Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway work of the late and great black playwright August Wilson to make it to be big screen.  Neil Simon won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for his Broadway hit, LOST IN YONKERS.  The film version hit the screens in 1993.  A CHORUS LINE won the Pulitzer Prize in 1976.  The film version arrived in 1985.  AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize.  Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts received Oscar nominations for the 2013 movie adaptation.  FENCES, August Wilson's play about the life of a 1950s working class black American family, won Wilson the 1987 Pulitzer Prize.  THE PIANO LESSON, another play about black life in America, won Wilson the 1990 Pulitzer Prize.  Did you get that?  Black playwright August Wilson won TWO Pulitzer Prizes for his Broadway dramas about African American life.
Neither play ever got a big screen adaptation like other Pulitzer Prize winning plays did.  I was extremely to be able to see the Broadway production of FENCES starring James Earl Jones as the ex-baseball player father and Courtney B. Vance as his son.  James Earl Jones was magnificent.  He'd been remarkable in another Broadway play, THE GREAT WHITE HOPE, that had been turned into a critically acclaimed 1970.  Martin Ritt's film version of THE GREAT WHITE HOPE earned Jones his one and only Oscar nomination, a nomination for Best Actor.  Seeing FENCES was one of most thrilling nights of theater I've ever experienced.  At the end of the play, there was silence in the audience and then an astounding rush of applause and cheers and a standing ovation for James Earl Jones.  The ovation was overwhelming -- as if he'd hit the World Series-winning grand slam home run for the home team.
FENCES should have become a movie starring James Earl Jones in the late 80s.  But films featuring predominantly black casts in positive, substantial roles had trouble getting the money to go into production.  Just ask director Norman Jewison when he wanted to -- and did -- shoot A SOLDIER'S STORY starring Denzel Washington.  The 1984 film was based on the stage hit, A SOLDIER'S PLAY by Charles Fuller.  Jewison, who gave us IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1967), THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968) FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, MOONSTRUCK and 1999's THE HURRICANE starring Denzel Washington as imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, said that no studio wanted to make the film.  The story focused on black American soldiers in the segregated troops of World War Two dealing with racism.  Jewison offered to a lot less money than usual to direct the film.  After A SOLDIER'S STORY came out, one of the Oscar nominations it went on to get was for Best Picture of 1984.

Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington and Viola Davis starred in the also Tony-winning and critically hailed Broadway revival of FENCES in 2010.  The two stars won Tony Awards for their performances.  They star in the film version, directed by Mr. Washington.
FENCES opens Christmas Day.  It's been a long time comin'.  Here's a link to click onto so you can see the trailer: https://youtu.be/a2m6Jvp0bUw.

I repeat my prediction:  Viola Davis will make Hollywood history as the first black actress to have more than two Oscar nominations to her credit. 






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