Fences is out in theaters this weekend. Buy your tickets here.
August Wilson’s Fences is one of the most important theatrical works of all time. Period. Easily the most popular of his Pittsburgh Cycle of plays, Fences tells the story of Troy Maxson and his family in the 1950s. Troy is a former star baseball player of the Negro league who aged out before black men could play for the major league and now works as a garbage man. His story is one of heartbreak, turmoil, indecision, and tragedy. Originated on Broadway by James Earl Jones, Troy Maxson is the undeniable definition of a tragic character.
Strong willed, stubborn, and savagely proud of his ability to provide for his family against all odds, a jaded fire burns inside of Troy Maxson, never allowing his scars to truly heal. Troy’s son Cory is a gifted football player that has the opportunity to attend college on a football scholarship, but Troy’s resentment of never getting to play professional baseball brings out an ugliness that he insists on sharing with those closest to him. His anger and acidity nearly eats through his entire family, because he cannot accept the hand that life has dealt. He’s a former homerun hero turned trash picker. His son is signing up to endure the pain he struggles to overcome while simultaneously potentially accomplishing what he never could, and his wife filled with unconditional love, may be the best he’ll ever have.
It’s common to compare Troy to Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman as nothing more than cheating, angry, and arrogant assholes, but the circumstances in which Troy gets to his place in life vs. Willy Loman’s is important to note. Willy Loman is a white man of privilege who runs his life down the drain. Troy reached his point in life under pretenses completely out of his control…to some extent. Troy’s anger and frustration comes from a place that unfortunately still resonates today. As a Black man in 1950s America, the prejudice he endured is something completely out of his control. He truly believes it didn’t matter how good he was at baseball, that the color of his skin kept him out of the major leagues and in the garbage dump. While this holds some truth, Troy completely ignores that the fifteen years he spent in prison aged him out of the major leagues, thereby making him partially responsible for his lot in life.
Fences as a film has been twenty years in the making, but its arrival couldn’t be more fitting. The end of 2016 leaves many people scared about their futures and angry about things beyond their control. Representation is extremely important in our media, and the presentation of Troy Maxson on film is absolutely needed. Troy is a depressing, tragic figure because he is a victim of his own devices. In striving for equality in representation, there is a tendency to portray minority characters as strong, inspiring, and quite frankly, without flaws. Troy Maxson showcases the tortured existence of man scorned by his own decisions, and allows a face other than the white Willy Loman with which an audience can identify.