Over the past several months, I have taken on the difficult task of writing a screen play. It is difficult for me because all my training and writing has been novels and the two genres are much different. When I reach a point of frustration, as I often do, I walk away from the computer, go to the television and tune into my additional frustration, and that is watching August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Fences as a movie. My frustration is with the main character, Troy, played by Denzel Washington (whom I feel did an excellent portrayal of the character). He is the reason I keep going back to this movie every time I want a break from my primary frustration. The problem is I really want to like Troy because he is a Black man as I am, and even though his struggles with this country occur years earlier than mine, they are similar. But that is where our commonality ends.

I am not sure exactly what Wilson was doing with this character, or if he even cared how we the viewer would feel about Troy. Before deciding to write about this very complicated character, I read a lot of reviews by critics and the most important people of all, those who also saw the movie. One fact that is undeniable, Troy causes an emotional response in people and maybe that was Wilson’s goal. If so, he succeeded. But then what type of emotion did the viewer get, and is that important? I feel that it is! And just as important is what kind of perception or image did he create in the minds of young Black boys and men who saw the movie?

Is it the image of a failed baseball player who never makes it to the major leagues because of racism? Is it the image of a man who brings his paycheck home to his wife every Friday, but then goes out and spends time with another woman because, as he suggests, he needs his space? Is it the image of a man who finds his joy in hanging out in the backyard, drinking gin with his friend and talking about his past escapades? How do you really measure the value of a man who brings a baby he is fathered by another woman, home to his wife of eighteen years and asks her to take on the role of mother? How insensitive is that, and are we supposed to find value in this man because life has thrown him too many curve balls that he just couldn’t hit? Is it the image of a man who berates his son and enters into a physical fight with him because he was responsible for him being in the world and he deserves more respect for that?

I am not sure which of the two frustrations I will manage to overcome, attempting to master the art of writing a screen script or finding some value and worth as a man in Troy. With any luck it will be the first one because, honestly, I don’t think I want to conquer the second one. Because if I do, I will find some value in a man who cheats on his wife, beats his son, and lacks the ability to know that he has made their lives miserable because of his own weaknesses and insecurities.

In my attempt to assess what August Wilson was trying to accomplish by creating this very dysfunctional family, I must ask the question should fiction imitate life or should fiction influence life to make it better? The great Peruvian Nobel Prize winning author, Mario Vargas Llosa, in his creative writing work book, Letters to the Young Novelist, has written that the novelist looks at the world the way it is and then dreams of how it can be better, and that is how he or she should write. He also advises the young novelist that fiction is the window to view the soul of a people. Plays and films also fit into this category. Is Troy’s world what we aspire for our young, and when future generations view that movie will that be the impression they have of us back in the Twentieth and early years of the Twenty-first Centuries. As writers and hopefully, dreamers, do we owe them something much better than the image of Troy? If we don’t, why are we writing?

No doubt August Wilson was a very good playwright, but I also believe the story he tells in Fences is one that most Black people have lived and don’t necessarily need to be reminded of in plays and movies. We deserve something much more enlightening and therefore empowering as a people.

Two Loves-Two Worlds

Over the past week, our country experienced the very inspiring exposure of two loves emanating from two worlds. Those worlds are best defined as cultures that exist within the European-American and the African-American spheres juxtaposed within the geographical boundaries of the United States. Those two loves, though entrenched in the different cultures, are examples of our oneness. That oneness that is as diversified with all races, religions and ideas as you can experience anywhere in the world.

One of those loves was on display at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, Michigan, the church that held the funeral service for Ms. Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul and the epitome of what was and still is good and wonderful about the African American community, one world. Ms. Franklin chose Greater Grace because she sang there for Ms. Rosa Parks funeral.

The other love was on display at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. the magnificent edifice where the soldier, warrior and statesman John McCain’s final service was held. McCain chose the National Cathedral as the appropriate place for a man who had dedicated his life to a career in the Senate and the military.

For seven hours, the service at Greater Grace Temple erupted in a celebration of joy and life as only an African American funeral can do. Its roots lay deep in the past, historically entrenched in one room churches throughout the South right after slavery, and in the urban churches as Blacks made their way to the North seeking a better life. The music was the music of a people’s soul that began as spirituals in the cotton fields and evolved to gospel in the urban areas and brought to life by a gifted writer, Tommie Dorsey.

The call and response are as old as the Black church. It is a technique used to get the congregation to be a part of the service. Baptist ministers are famous for using that as a method to liven the people and that is exactly what happened in Greater Grace Temple. It was appropriate that Ms. Franklin’s home going ceremony be full of life because she certainly was. All seven hundred men, women and children who were fortunate to get a seat inside of the Temple, gave her the love as only they knew how to deliver it.

The warrior/statesman’s funeral was much staider, less life, no call and response, no one was up in the aisles raising their arms and even dancing as was the case in Detroit. But the love was there, and it was displayed in a European-American ceremony. The most compelling examples of these distinct differences was how “Amazing Grace,” was performed by Jennifer Hudson in Detroit and the Brophy Student Ensemble rendition at McCain’s ceremony.

Renee Fleming’s rendition of “Danny Boy” was appropriate for the McCain service and brought tears to Mrs. Cindy McCain. However, when you heard Gladys Knight sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” as a tribute to the memory of Ms. Franklin, you felt the emotions throughout the Temple as the congregation was again on their feet, lifting their arms high in the air and closing their eyes in prayer.

The very important observation to be pointed out is that both services took on the demeanor of the two cultures, but they both showed the deference and respect to the two Americans who, in their own way, represented what is best about this country. And that is very important and much needed in these times of trouble in our land.