In Fences, Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a 53-year-old African-American man living in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. He lives with his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), and their 17-year-old son Cory (Jovan Adepo). He has an older son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), from a previous marriage. Lyons is a musician, who often comes to visit on payday. Troy works hard as a garbage collector to make enough money to provide for his family. His sense of responsibility weighs heavily on him, and it angers him that Lyons doesn’t get a ‘proper’ job and make real money.
Troy works with his neighbour and good friend Bono (Stephen Henderson), and they often have a chat and a drink after work. It’s during these chats that we learn about Troy’s difficult background. He had an abusive father and left home at 14 but later became a successful baseball player for what was then called an ‘all-negro’ team. He has a brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), who was injured during the war and is now brain damaged. Troy was sent to jail for 15 years for accidentally killing a man during a robbery. He met and married Rose when he came out of jail. By this time, he was too old to continue his baseball career but he has blamed his ineligibility on his colour. This seems to have had a long-lasting influence on his outlook.
One day Troy comes home from work with a revelation that is so upsetting to Rose that it threatens their relationship and happy life together. Cory refuses to speak to his father again, and Troy retaliates by kicking him out of home. Troy and Rose stay living in the same house but separately, with Rose refusing to let him back into her life.
Here we outline any topics, issues and ideas in this movie that might upset children and adolescents, so that you can gauge whether it is appropriate for your child. For example, children and adolescents may react adversely to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, separation from a parent, animal cruelty or distress, children as victims, natural disasters and racism.
Racial issues; father-son relationships; infidelity
Here we identify any violence in this movie, and explain how and why it might impact on your child or adolescent. In general, movie violence can make children less sensitive to the use of violence in real life. Alternatively, they may become fearful about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world. In some contexts, it can also teach them to see violence as an acceptable means of conflict resolution.
Fences has some violence. For example:
- Troy slaps Rose playfully on the bottom on several occasions.
- Troy smashes things on a benchtop in frustration.
- Troy hits Cory on the chest and tells him to ‘get the hell out of my face’.
- Troy talks about how his father used to beat him with a leather strap. When he was 14, he stood up to his father but his father beat him until Troy couldn’t see. Troy hasn’t seen his father since and hopes he’s dead.
- Troy describes pulling a knife on a man during a robbery.
- Rose and Troy fight verbally and yell at each other. Troy grabs Rose by the arm, and Cory pushes him away. Troy pushes Cory back into the fence.
- Troy yells at ‘death’ during a thunderstorm. ‘Death’ seems to answer him with thunder claps. Troy tells ‘death’ to stay on the other side of the fence.
- Cory and Troy have a serious fight. Cory threatens Troy with his baseball bat. Troy dares Cory to hit him but says he’ll have to kill him if he does. Cory backs down but Troy grabs the baseball bat and thrusts it against Cory’s neck. Troy lets Cory go but sends him packing.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, Fences has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years. For example, Gabriel seems scary because he’s brain damaged and acts quite irrationally. He often comes to visit Rose and Troy.
In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, Fences has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:
- We hear about a mother who dies during childbirth.
- Gabriel is seen sitting at his mother’s grave. He leaves some of his food for her.
- Troy visits Gabriel in hospital – the ward is full of mentally ill patients.
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, Fences has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:
- Some of Troy’s stories are quite disturbing, especially the story of how his father treated him and how he had to leave home at 14. It’s also disturbing that he needed to steal food and commit robberies to survive.
- The scene where Troy argues with ‘death’ during a thunderstorm is very dramatic and quite scary.
Some children in this age group could also be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above.
Fences has some sexual references. For example:
- Troy often kisses and cuddles Rose playfully. One time when he’s been drinking he says he ‘has to finish what’s at hand’ while grabbing her crotch.
- Troy has an affair and has to tell Rose he’s going to become a father again.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Fences shows some use of substances. For example:
- Troy often drinks gin neat out of a bottle, which he shares with Bono and Lyons. He often says regrettable things after drinking too much.
- Troy drinks alone at a bar.
Nudity and sexual activity
None of concern
None of concern
There is some coarse and racist language in Fences.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Fences is amovie based on a 1980s play by August Wilson. It feels very much like a stage play transferred to screen, but the high standard of acting, particularly by the main characters, carries it off.
The story is quite intense and its themes, violence, sexual references and coarse language make it more suitable for teenagers and adults. It isn’t recommended for viewers under 13 years, and we also recommend parental guidance for children aged 13-15 years.
The main message from this movie is that we all need to somehow live with the imperfections of others as well as our own. The movie also emphasises that success comes through hard work.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include patience, perseverance and forgiveness.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues like:
- how drinking too much can make you say and do things you might regret
- how important families are
- how family structures have changed since the 1950s when fathers had to be obeyed by their wives and children.