"Fences" opened on Broadway in 1987, winning the Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Actor (James Earl Jones), and Best Featured Actress (Mary Alice). A revival of "Fences" opened in 2010, winning the Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor Denzel Washington, and Best Actress (Viola Davis). All five adult actors reprise their roles in this film adaptation, with Washington also directing.
In 2017, August Wilson received a posthumous Oscar nomination for his 'Fences' screenplay, adapted from his own play. Wilson, the only credited writer, passed away in 2005.
Denzel Washington has said that after having performed the play 114 times at the Cort Theatre in New York City in 2010, directing the film adaptation became quite a simple readjustment.
Viola Davis's performance was campaigned as "Supporting" during awards season, though this placement was seen as category fraud by some awards pundits. In an interview with Deadline, Denzel Washington said he disagreed with the placement, but that this was Davis' own decision, which would improve her chances of winning.
Fences was originally a 1983 play by August Wilson. Set in the 1950s, it is the sixth in Wilson's ten-part "Pittsburgh Cycle". Like all of the "Pittsburgh" plays, Fences examines race relations and explores the evolving African-American experience, among other themes. In 1987, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.
Denzel Washington and Spike Lee did uncredited treatments on August Wilson's original screenplay in pre-production. Washington also did even more numerous rewrites on set. Denzel requested to go uncredited to honor Wilson, and to ensure Wilson would be the only writer to receive any recognition and awards.
When Paramount Studios originally acquired the film rights to the play in 1987 with the involvement of Eddie Murphy, it was largely due to Murphy wanting to take on a more "serious" film role: that of 17-year-old Cory. However, in 1987, Murphy was already a full decade older than the character of Cory, and the many filming delays meant that Murphy quickly aged out of eligibility for the role.
This was August Wilson's first ever screenplay adaptation of one of his own acclaimed plays.
August Wilson insisted that a film adaptation of the play be directed by an African-American.
Although August Wilson had long worked on the screenplay adaptation of his own play Fences, the film's script was still incomplete when Wilson died in 2005. In January 2016, Deadline Hollywood reported that producer Scott Rudin had hired the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner to finish Wilson's screenplay. In December 2016, the New York Times reported that although Kushner didn't receive a writing credit for the final film, he did get "a prominent mention as a co-producer" instead. As of 2016, it is Kushner's only-ever credit as a producer on a movie.
Filmed on location in August Wilson's hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where most of his plays were set.
In the film's opening shot, the most prominent building on the left side of the street is lettered PITTSBURGH COURIER. The Courier was Pittsburgh's African-American newspaper, among the country's most respected. One of its sportswriters, Wendell Smith, advocated for ending the color line in major league baseball and traveled in 1947 with Jackie Robinson through his inaugural season with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Denzel Washington felt comfortable with the source material since he had been involved with the play on Broadway.
In Lila & Eve (2015), a recurring line is that Viola Davis' character has 'a date with Denzel' meaning she's staying home watching movies starring Denzel Washington. One year later she actually plays his wife in this film.
The first time that Denzel Washington appears in a Best Picture Oscar nominee since A Soldier's Story (1984), a gap of 32 years. It is also the first time he is the lead actor in a movie nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
The first Oscar nominated performance by Denzel Washington in a Best Picture nominated film.