“How has my life turned out?” is the core question in the story of Fences, the new movie directed by and starring Denzel Washington. The movie is based on the stage play of the same name by August Wilson about Troy (Washington), a former Negro League player who now works as a garbage collector in the Pittsburgh of the 1950s. He lives there with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and son Cory (Jovan Adepo).
Cory is a budding athlete himself and is on the cusp of leaving for college on a sports scholarship. But he’s butting heads with his old man, who is of the old school where you don’t show a lot of love or other emotions. That’s not only causing problems with his son but also his wife as a lifetime of unfulfilled dreams begins to reach critical mass. So he’s dealing with the race issues that were inherent in the era as well as the consequences of a life that he feels is incomplete.
There’s no copy or anything that hints at the story or plot on the one-sheet, just the faces of Washington and Davis as they look at something off-camera in the way parents do when they’re watching their kid play at something. It’s black-and-white and so really captures the lived-in feel of the characters, something emphasized by the cheap wooden fence that’s visible in the background. It’s simple and effective, selling the movie based on our appreciation of the skills of those two actors and the promise that watching them together will be something special.
The first teaser trailer is an emotional gut-punch. The centerpiece is a conversation between Troy and Cory, as the boy asks his father why he never liked him. The answer is a long speech by Troy about how everything he does is for his son and to not only teach him how to be a man but to take care of him and show him how to take care of himself one day and give him the opportunities he never had. Through all that we see scenes from throughout the rest of the movie as Troy goes to work, deals with neighbors and others, is happy or sad and everything inbetween. Finally Rose chimes in and reminds Troy that he’s not alone in all this, that she’s been standing there with him.
It’s so good, I would seriously just watch 90 minutes more of Washington monologuing. Wow.
The second trailer works on the same emotional level. This one is more focused on showing off Troy’s dreams and aspirations, none of which have come to pass over the course of his life. That’s framed by Cory’s growing up and getting ready to leave the house, hopefully for something better than his old man has. So while he’s searching for validation he’s never going to get, Troy is dealing with the fact that this is all there is to his life. Rose too is accepting of how this is as good as her life will be.
There’s so much drama between the three characters and this trailer, I’m sure, only shows a small fraction of it. Unlike other movies where the trailer shows much of what you need to know about the movie’s story this one only hints at everything that’s in store in the full movie. It’s only teasing the depths of the drama that will be plumbed.
Online and Social
The second trailer begins playing when you load the movie’s official website and it’s absolutely worth rewatching. Unfortunately there’s not much else going on here once you close the trailer, just another prompt to watch the trailer and one to open an “About the Film” section that doesn’t have any information on the movie, just the talent involved in making it. There are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles as well.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Some TV advertising was done like this extended spot that are basically a condensed version of the trailers, showing the conflict in Troy’s life and the tension is causes between him and the rest of his family.
A few online ads were run as well using variations on the key art.
Media and Publicity
The first look at the movie came via Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview, while more first look photos later appeared in The Hollywood Reporter. Later on Washington talked about how important it was for a black director to take on this story and the reverence with which he approached the source material.
The movie, particularly the performances of the two leads, almost immediately became seen as award contenders. Later on a series of features in THR interviewed Washington and Davis where they talked about adapting the play, the timeliness of the story and other important topics.
More buzz for the movie came in the form of awards and nominations for Davis and Washington in particular. The cast also did a couple screenings and appearances at colleges to talk about the themes of the movie.
Let’s be honest, the main draw here are the performances of Davis and Washington. That’s not surprising given that this is based on a play, where the actors and the lines are so prominent. And it makes it not surprising that the campaign would place the emphasis so strongly on those performances. That’s why you see both trailers starting off or entirely focused on dialogues or monologues from one of those two.
The movie that’s being sold looks incredibly powerful. It’s a story about long-delayed dreams, unfulfilled potential, what you owe the generation after yours and how all that relates to race told by some of the best of today’s working actors. It’s a vital story in this time in history and it’s one that will hopefully continue to garner not more awards consideration but also an audience to see that story told.