Special to South Florida Times
“Parents just don’t understand!”
The Fresh Prince (Will Smith) and DJ Jazzy Jeff didn’t invent this phrase for their hit song in the 90s. This is a mantra that has been spoken by many children in every generation. It’s what happens when those who are older attempt to impose their ideals on those who are younger and meet clashing results. Every generation has its cycle, where it is young and impressionable; then matures to looking at the next generation and shaking its head at their antics. It’s unclear why there are such divides amongst generations, but this divide is a source of contention in the film Fences.
Adapted for film by August Wilson (who wrote the original, 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway version), Fences is set in the late 1950s, where the fences in the title represent the backyard in which the play is set and most of the film occurs.
Troy Maxson (played by Denzel Washington, who committed to triple duty as lead actor, director and producer) tries to instill his brand of values in his two sons. Lyons (Russell Hornsby), Troy’s oldest son from a previous relationship,
is a man who has dreams of becoming a successful musician. Troy’s youngest son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), has been offered a football scholarship to a university, but Troy is not pleased.
“It’s a timeless story so I was able to relate to Cory’s position,” said Adepo, who was born in Oxfordshire, England and graduated from Bowie State University in Maryland. “Cory is
going through something that every young man goes through in some period of his life or earlier on. And, that’s just trying to find his way.”
In the film, Cory has a contentious relationship with Troy due to his father’s realistic view of the world and his belief that both of his sons should give up their dreams to get a real
job. This causes clashes between father and sons over the loss of Cory’s football scholarship and the way that Troy handles his marriage to Rose (the indomitable Viola Davis). We, the audience, find out in the middle of the story that Troy didn’t have a good relationship with his own father and never learned how to be a parent. And, so the cycle continues with the power struggle between old and new as each try to find their way in society.
“To work in film with Denzel, you feel like you grew up right,” said Stephen McKinley Henderson with a laugh when speaking about working with Washington as producer/director/actor. Henderson, who plays Troy’s best friend Bono, played the same character in the Broadway production of the play.
In fact, with the exception of Adepo, the Broadway cast reprises their roles in the film. They must go from seeing Washington as a fellow thespian to seeing him as the boss of the production; but Henderson and Adepo took Washington’s new role in stride. Adepo called him “a fearless leader” and Henderson expounded on the honor that it is to be entrusted with the late Wilson’s adapted screenplay.
“Viola is an act of nature,” Henderson, a seasoned play and film actor who also teaches film at University of Buffalo, said. “She is just an incredible, incredible artist and I’m humbled, honored, exhilarated and thrilled (to have worked with her).”
Davis brings all of her training and previous experience in the play and various other projects to the role. Davis’ Rose represents the 1950s housewife who puts all of her hopes and dreams into her husband and children.
She also represents the glue that holds the family together through trials and tribulations.
Surrounded by a group of talented and well- trained actors, Davis and the cast were able to share their guidance to help Adepo become Cory.
“It was a blessing to get to be in such great company with all of the (Broadway) cast. I took the opportunity as a time to look at it as a master acting class,” Adepo said about the experience. As an up-and-coming actor, Adepo was one of the youngest on set. He sees the film as seeking to show young people that their parents aren’t perfect and that they should try to be as understanding of their parents as their parents are of them.
When asked about getting the young people of today to see Fences, Adepo simply said, “Come in and watch the movie and learn a thing or two. Learn something from the grown folks, because that’s the type of experience it was for me working on it.”
Not only does this statement apply to the timeless story, it applies to parent-child relationships all over the world. It reminds us that every generation has a responsibility to teach those coming after them and those who are younger should learn from those who came before them.
You can reach Kim Grant at KAliciaG@aol.com.