Movie Review: “Fences” (with a hint of “Lion”)

(Unedited) After seeing “I Am Not Your Negro,” I wanted to see “Fences” again.


Both “Fences” and “I Am Not Your Negro” are about the beauty, power and use of words. Black words. Black vernacular. Black pacing. If you are not a lover of words neither of these movies will capture you.

SN: Two lines that resonated in I Am Not Your Negro are: “white is a metaphor for power;” and “segregation equals apathy and ignorance.”

Word(smiths) = August Wilson and James Baldwin.

And then I saw “Lion” on Friday and I made a FB post afterwards talmbout the common thread between “Moonlight,” “Fences,” “I Am NOT Your Negro,” and now “Lion.”

The through-line, is HOME. Home the physical place, but even moreso, the person(s). I just saw the movie “Lion” and I was reminded how we carry “our peeps” with us. Dev Patel was absolutely phenomenal. And the angles and camera shots were inviting. I did struggle with the white adoptive parents and wanted him to have a love interest of color: nonetheless, I got beyond those two things to really settle into the character of Saroo/Sheru. Always remember, yo people, who are deep in your spirit, they’ll always guide you “home,” if home is what and where you want to be.

I saw Fences, December 26. I’ve been sitting on this review for a minute. I wanted to make it more succinct and linear, but yeah, this is what I came up with….

Fences is Black. Unapologetically Black.

Fences opens with Place. Sound. Pittsburgh streets. Working class.

Single camera up close and personal—stage on screen. Words words words. So yummy to my ears and snuggley with my spirit. Wilson’s words made me come up outta myself to converse with the screen.

Wilson’s words when talmbout Alberta, “damn sure big and hearty. She wears big stockings.”

I was in deep by the turn in the plot.


In the age of alleged ratchetness, we misunderstand the difference between showing our layered selves and showing our arse. But then again isn’t it all our humanness, right?

Fences explored:

House vs. Home.

Responsibility vs. Emotional (Un)availability.

House vs. Shelter.

Responsibility vs. Feeling “Alive.”

Relatable: My grandfather used to bring home his check and give it to my grandmother. Ole skool sensibilities. My grandfather also betrayed his vow. Ole skool heartbreak.

Relatable: Seeing Black men in my family coming home from work and shooting the ish with their friends and drinking from a pint or a can of beer.

Relatable: Hanging clothes on the line with socks in-between the sheets/clothes.

Clearly, Denzel and Viola perfected Fences on the stage, on Broadway, before it hit the screen. Clearly, ancestor August perfected Fences on the page before it hit the stage & screen.

But it was the whole entire cast, all the way up to the little girl, that was stellar. Mykelti Williamson who played Gabriel, Troy’s brother. My Gawd, all the rave about Denzel’s acting, but Mykelti put his toe jam in his role too. We are reminded of wounded vets who have mental health challenges, brains with a steel plates. Vets who have wounded spirits and wounded cognition.

Baseball, the backdrop.

“gotta take the crooked with the straight…”

The Fence, the backdrop.

“fences keep stuff out or keep something in…”

Fears: Due to a parents shortcomings or being before their time placed upon a child. Fear that Cory, will also fail and be eaten up by the big bad world.

A father limiting his parenting to materials and breath. A son needing emotional vulnerability from a father.

Bones: A friend holding Troy accountable.

Rose: Troy’s wife. She stayed cos of her vow. She too wanted to lay up with another. She too had feelings, yearnings, loving to give and to receive. She knew he wasn’t perfect, but he was her man and she stayed.

“Plant myself a seed and not take 18 years to know it’s not going to bloom.” Rose Maxson

Viola Davis (Rose) one of the best character actresses of today, was superb. She was so fantab that she made Denzel up his game. She shined. Just like Viola in her acting genius, set it up for Octavia to win an Oscar. Denzel in his acting/directing genius, set it up for Viola to win.

Beyond the words were the images:

Laying on of hands at the church by the Mothers of the church, sista ushers…sista evangelists. They were dressed in white, 1st Sunday attire, with their dollies nicely pressed and pinned upon their heads.

The image of Troy feeding his brother. The cost of not knowing how to read.

Denzel embodies Troy during the storm and a baby is born. “The devil” comes a knocking. Here’s the thing though, our arms are always too short to box with God so Troy’s failed attempt to rumble with “the devil” was dramatic and well acted, but believers/saints were praying at that point in the movie. Lol lol lol lol

We: us womynfolk expected to do the “right” thing. To raise someone else’s child.

Father and Son (Troy and Cory): There can only be one man in the house. But how do we define Black manhood. What are Black son’s love language? Once again, how do Black boys learn how to be emotionally available?

And the children will lead the way. Raynell is the “another day, another chance,” of the movie. A girl-child.

And then the day of judgment, St. Peters opening “the gates.”

So yeah, as I said when I did the review of Hidden Figures, I think Fences was cheated from doing better at the box office by the chosen release date. I get that it was trying make the Oscars schedule.

Hidden Figures is a more “feel good” movie—it was more holiday-friendly. Hidden Figures had the soft, select city, launch Christmas and it racked up. Fences, on the other hand, was possibly too raw and real for a Christmas release. Folk weren’t feeling Fences during the holidays, though it was a far better written and acted movie. No shade to H.F., but H.F. was bubble gum that gets stiff too fast vs. that slow oozing juicy center that lingers of a good piece of gum.

Bloomfully yours,

nicole jhan’rea


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