Party Coverage: Scene City: A ‘Fences’ Celebration, Missing the Guest of Honor

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Party Coverage: Scene City: A ‘Fences’ Celebration, Missing the Guest of Honor

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Party Coverage: Scene City

By JACOB BERNSTEIN

At the Time Warner Center on Monday night, a red carpet area teemed with reporters. Sandy Kenyon of WABC-TV was at one end. A reporter from E! was at the other.

Making her way down the line in a black Cinq à Sept gown with pink detailing was Viola Davis, her husband, Julius Tennon, in tow.

Six years ago, Ms. Davis appeared on Broadway, starring with Denzel Washington in a much-celebrated revival of August Wilson’s Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Fences.”

On Monday, she was there promoting its debut on the screen, in a film Mr. Washington directed and starred in, based on a script Mr. Wilson wrote before his death in 2005.

Ms. Davis said Mr. Wilson’s presence was felt the entire time. “He was there,” she said. “His spirit was there. It was there through Constanza Romero, his widow, who was on the set. It was there in Denzel in every choice and decision he made. It was in our bodies and through Stephen McKinley Henderson, who has done eight of August’s plays.”

Around 7:30, just as the screening was to begin, Mr. Washington and his wife, Pauletta, arrived and were enthusiastically greeted by Usher.

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“What’s up, poppa?” Usher asked.

“How you doing, baby?” said Ms. Washington, flashing a big smile.

Soon, Mr. Washington made his way through a scrum of interviewers, who asked about the experience of directing his third film. (The first two were “Antwone Fisher” in 2002 and “The Great Debaters” in 2007.)

“I know what actors want, and a lot of times it’s to be left alone,” Mr. Washington said.

Politics also came up. What would he miss about the Obamas, who had come to see him on Broadway in “Fences” in 2010, and whom he had visited a week ago in the White House?

“Their strength, their grace, their intelligence,” he said.

Did Mr. Washington worry that Donald J. Trump and his cabinet may not be as committed to African-American causes as his predecessor?

“That’s nothing new,” Mr. Washington said, letting out that big Denzel-esque laugh. “Remember who we are? That’s 400 years we’ve been here!”

In fact, the movie draws upon a pivotal moment in that history: focusing on a black working-class couple in the 1960s who are struggling to make sense of a world that is beginning to change just as they are reaching an age when it would be difficult to renegotiate their futures.

It is harrowing material, but guests at the after-party at Tavern on the Green sang its praises.

One was the Rev. Al Sharpton, who in early 2016 helped lead the #OscarsSoWhite movement, and saw “Fences” as the latest in a string of movies about African-Americans like “Moonlight,” “Hidden Figures,” “13th” and “O. J.: Made in America,” all of which are expected to be contenders in major categories when Oscar nominations come out next month.

“It’s a whole new world,” Mr. Sharpton said. “I think now, we need Hollywood to teach American politics how to be not only diverse but democratic.”

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