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Tony Kushner Joins Denzel Washington For Fences Film Adaptation

Pulitzer Prize winning screenwriter and  playwright Tony Kushner has teamed up with Denzel Washington to complete the screenplay for August Wilson’s play Fences. As previously reported, Washington will be producing all ten of Wilson’s Pittsburgh based plays. Said Washington,

I’ve been given the opportunity by the August Wilson estate, he did 10 plays—I’m directing, producing and acting in one, and I’m executive producing the other nine. I made a deal with HBO. We’re going to do one a year for the next nine years.

Fences is the sixth play in Wilson’s provocative and avant garde ten play spread known as The Century Cycle, which explores African American life beginning in the 1900’s and ending in the 1990’s. This play is set in 1950’s Pittsburgh. It is the story of Troy Maxson, ‘a restless trash-collector and former baseball athlete struggling to provide for his family’. The film adaptation will be directed, produced by and will also star Washington along with Emmy and Tony award winning actress Viola Davis. Washington and Davis are reprising their roles from the 2010 Broadway revival of the play.  Fences was not a part of the HBO deal and is instead slated to be filmed by Paramount with producer Scott Rudin. In 1987, Paramount Pictures bought the rights to Fences, but the project floundered because Wilson had the absolute foresight to insist that the project should have a Black director. Understandably, Paramount did not move forward with the adaptation without Wilson’s approval.

Kushner has an impressive list of successes that include most notably the seven hour, 2 part play Angels in America that explored AIDS and homosexuality in 1980’s New York. The play was later adapted into a powerful mini series by HBO. Additionally, Kushner and Rudin have worked together previously on several other projects.

Certainly, it’s exciting that the adaptation of Fences seems to finally be moving forward but the question that is becoming less of a thought and more of a roar, is at what point will African Americans be granted the full opportunity to participate in the telling of their own stories? While I am not throwing shade at the accomplishments of Kushner, isn’t this a prime opportunity for an African American screenwriter to have the opportunity to participate at the very highest level of the creative process on a play that is truly beloved by many Black theatre aficionados? Surely there is no doubt that with the plethora of smoking hot Black playwrights who are turning Broadway and the silver screen  on its previously lily white ear, we could have found one, two an entire TEAM of writers who could fully embrace the magic of the venerable August Wilson?

Simply put, there must be more. And it begins by boldly throwing open the doors and saying welcome at every level of the production process. I will be happy to see Fences reach a broader audience. I am thrilled that Washington has been entrusted with this wonderful opportunity and that the amazing Viola Davis is again a part of the cast, but I can’t lie I just AIN’T satisfied and won’t be satisfied until I see our reflection peeking out from every aspect of Broadway and Hollywood; particularly when it comes to OUR stories. It’s progress, but still we must press on.

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