You are here:

A Tale of Two Movies: Fences and Hidden Figures By Cassiette West-Williams, Special to the Traveler Weekly

Chicago, IL – Inspiration, history and superb writing makes block buster movies “Fences” and “Hidden Figures” worth the extra time and top dollar to travel quickly to the theater. Movie houses everywhere in America are showing two outstanding movies with leading African American actors. They are different types of movies, but one is not better than the other. They both celebrate our culture and brilliance as positive people, hurdling over negative circumstances.

Hidden Figures” traces the lives of three African-American NASA queens: Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughn and Katherine G. Johnson throughout the 1960s. NASA recruited women and used their academic talents to put men in space. Sometimes thought of as the maid or a subservient clerical worker, the movie chronicles the three women’s professional and often difficult climb up the corporate ladder. Despite the nation’s, Jim Crow laws and “Colored” coffee pots, these women persevered and were credited 55 years later for putting the late Astronaut John Glenn and others in space. The women were often undermined and ignored by their white male peers, but their intellectual creativity shone through the hatred of their white counterparts.

It is unfortunate that the late Queen Vaughn passed in 2008 and Queen Jackson made her transition in 2005, thus unable to see their accomplishments on the golden screen. However, Queen Katherine Johnson is alive and was honored by President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. She was a gifted child prodigy (math) and graduated from college at just 18 years-old. Mrs. Johnson, a mathematician, is credited in the movie for calculating the entry point coming in from space. It was Queen Mary Jackson who said that the heat shields were not installed correctly on the space ship. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth on February 20, 1962. (NASA.gov)

Without giving away the plot, audience members cried, gasped, stomped, laughed and cheered the queens on, as their careers progressed. The music is excellent and was written by Grammy award-winning and former voice coach Pharell Williams. It was refreshing to see several upstanding, middle class, articulate, hardworking Black families on the big screen, without scandal or negativity.

The late playwright, August Wilson, demanded that the movie director of “Fences” come from within the African-American culture, and veteran actor Denzel Washington stepped into this important role. The 1950s, cultural nuances are correct, as Wilson’s dialogue is delivered with passion. One feels the tight kinship between Troy Maxson’s family and friends, as the stage to drama unfolds in the small, working class Pittsburgh, PA home.

Fences” characters Troy Maxson (Washington) and Rose (Viola Davis) have reprised their Broadway roles, while welcoming excellent performances from Cory (Jovan Adepo) and Stephen Henderson (Bono), among others. The plot is thrilling and the outcomes will bring out every emotion in your body. From the devasting anguish Rose (Viola Davis) grapples with from her husband, Troy (Washington), to the unspeakable joy the family celebrates when Cory (Adepo) finds his way home, “Fences” keeps the audience’s feelings on a rollercoaster ride for almost three hours.

Davis captures the hearts of many, as she expresses her pain, devotion and compassion throughout betrayal. Her performance is stunning and Oscar worthy, as she lays it all on the line. Several life lessons are taught as this family’s life unfolds, and the chemistry between the characters grows closer. I believe that August Wilson would be proud of the body of work that Washington has produced.