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By Barbara Vancheri / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Fences” is coming home and bringing the luminous talents of Denzel Washington and possibly Viola Davis with it.

Two-time Oscar winner Mr. Washington, recent recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes, announced months ago that he would produce 10 of August Wilson’s plays for HBO over the next decade. He said he was directing, producing and acting in one — “Fences” — but the question of where it would be filmed remained open.

The project, however, has appeared on the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development website, indicating Paramount Pictures has been awarded a tax credit for “Fences.” It’s unclear whether the movie will debut theatrically, on HBO or possibly both.

In late August, Mr. Washington said he would be directing Ms. Davis in the movie version. He filmed part of the runaway train movie “Unstoppable” here and Ms. Davis portrayed a teacher in “Won’t Back Down,” also starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holly Hunter, Oscar Isaac and Rosie Perez, and filmed in Pittsburgh.  

Mr. Wilson wrote an unprecedented series of 10 plays, often called the Century or Pittsburgh Cycle because all but one play is set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh where the writer spent his youth and early adulthood. He chronicled the tragedies and aspirations of African Americans in his plays, each set in a decade of the 20th century.

“Fences” takes place in the Hill District circa 1957, and James Earl Jones originated the role of Troy Maxson, a disillusioned sanitation worker who never made it from the Negro Leagues to the majors. The Broadway production earned Tony Awards for best play, Mr. Jones as best actor in a play, Mary Alice as best actress and Lloyd Richards as director.

Paramount Pictures bought the rights to “Fences” in 1987, at the request of Eddie Murphy, who wanted to produce and possibly act in it, according to The New York Times.

Mr. Wilson did not have control over who would direct, but clashed with the studio because he insisted the film version of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play should have a black director, and Paramount had approached only white directors for the project. Without the writer’s endorsement, the project stalled, according to the Times.

In 2010, a Broadway revival starred Mr. Washington, who won a Tony for his starring role. Ms. Davis was named best actress and the production crowned best revival of a play.

“It’s very exciting to be able to welcome August Wilson’s ‘Fences’ to Pittsburgh,” Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said today.

Letters for multiple TV and film projects recently went out to studios and production companies to give the go-ahead for tax credits for the 2015-16 year. That cleared the way for a second season of “Outsiders,” if the WGN original series premiering Jan. 26 is renewed, along with other high-profile productions still to be announced.

“We’re thrilled that the film tax credit program is working so well. Thank you, Gov. Wolf, thank you legislators. This is keeping our film crew in this vital industry operating in southwestern Pennsylvania bringing jobs and new revenue into the commonwealth,” Ms. Keezer added.

Plans to restore the childhood home of the late playwright received a boost in midsummer with a $50,000 Keystone grant from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. The playwright's mother, Daisy, raised her children in two small rooms at the rear of 1727 Bedford Ave., a Hill District structure that dates to 1847.

Sharon Eberson contributed to this report. Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies. 

Date Published: 
Wednesday, January 13, 2016

 

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