'Fences' Could Be The Film That Finally Gets Viola Davis Her Oscar
When the dramatic new trailer for Fences, a film starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, hit the Internet in late September, one sentiment was repeated throughout social media and among fans online: give those actors Oscars now. Even without seeing the actual film itself, many people (myself included) are passionate that Washington and Davis' emotional and powerful performances seen in the trailer are good enough to have them take home trophies early in 2017. But while Washington already has two Academy Awards, one for Best Supporting Actor for Glory and one for Best Actor for Training Day, Davis, sadly, has none. But after seeing the Fences trailer, I'm pretty darned sure that this will be her year, and that, finally, Davis will get the Oscar she's proven she deserves.
Davis has been nominated for Academy Awards twice in the past. The first instance was a Best Supporting Actress nom in 2009 for her performance in Doubt, in which she had a small but pivotal role acting in tense scenes alongside Meryl Streep. She lost out, however, to Penelope Cruz for Vicky, Christina, Barcelona. Then, in 2012, Davis seemed prime for a win for her excellent lead turn in The Help, but her Doubt partner Streep took home the prize that year for The Iron Lady. Despite those losses, Davis is, of course, not without other accolades. In 2015, she became the first black woman to win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role in the Shondaland series How to Get Away with Murder. She also has two Tony Awards for her theatrical work, one of which is for the 2010 Broadway production of Fences in the very same role she'll play in the film. Still, it's my hope that her part in the big-screen version of Fences will be the one that earns her an actual Oscar.
Fences, written by August Wilson, tells the story of an African-American family in 1950s Pittsburgh who struggle through tense times of difficult race relations and poverty. In the 2010 production, and in the upcoming film, Davis plays Rose, the family matriarch, married to Troy, played by Washington. Though the story surrounds Troy's insecurities, infidelity, and past, Rose's presence and role is hardly one of a secondary character. Rose, as is evident in the new trailer, has quite a few scene-stealing moments throughout the story, and judging from the trailer bits alone, Davis' performance is just as good as it was six years ago on stage. I was lucky enough to catch Washington and Davis in the stage production of Fences in 2010, and their performances were utterly jaw dropping. Having seen them already perform these characters, I have no doubt that both actors will earn Oscar nominations, if not outright wins.
But there is one hitch in the plan. "Category fraud," as it has come to be called, is a definite issue when it comes to the Oscars, particularly when it comes to Best Supporting Actresses. Often times, studios strategically prefer to place their female leads in the Best Supporting Actress category so as to give them a better shot at winning trophies. It happened in 2016 with Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl, who won the prize for Supporting Actress despite sharing equal screen time and equal accolades with her co-star Eddie Redmayne, who was nominated for Best Actor.
With Washington's role a definite Lead Actor situation, it's perfectly possible that Paramount could campaign for Davis to be placed in the Lead Actress category, but it's also possible they'll decide she should run in the Supporting Actress category, instead, considering 2017's already crowded race (supporting categories tend to be less packed). With competition like Emma Stone for the critically acclaimed La La Land, Natalie Portman for her role as Jackie Kennedy in Jackie, and applauded or anticipated performances from Amy Adams (Arrival), Ruth Negga (Loving), Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) and more all vying for Best Actress, it's looking like it's going to be a tough category. As of now, awards prognosticators at Gold Derby have Davis at #2 in the Best Actress list, but who knows what the coming months may bring. She might be forced to campaign as Supporting Actress in order to find a spot in the competition.
And that might not be such a bad idea. While I already think Davis deserves the Lead win, sticking her in the Supporting category wouldn't actually be so terrible, if it means that she has a better chance to win an Oscar. Davis' years of dedication to her craft, her consistently excellent performances, and her devotion to putting her best work forward, no matter the medium — film, theater, or television — has turned her into one of our best living actors, male or female. And I, for one, think she deserves a shiny Oscar for her mantle. Hopefully, Fences can give it to her.