"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.
Fences was originally a 1983 play by American playwright August Wilson. Set in the 1950s, it is the sixth in Wilson's ten-part "Pittsburgh Cycle". Like all of the "Pittsburgh" plays, Fences explores the evolving African-American experience and examines race relations, among other themes. The play won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 1987 Tony Award for Best Play.
Viola Davis's performance is campaigned as supporting during awards season. 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 is was Davis' own decision, which would improve her chances of winning.
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 the 17-year-old son 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.
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.
In the 2015 film Lila & Eve, a recurring line is that Viola Davis's 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.