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Is ‘Fences’ a sports movie?

02.24.17 at 11:42 am ET
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In this month’s issue of Sports Illustrated, “Fencesis included in the Extra Mustard about sports movies at the Oscars. Of the nominees for Best Picture this year, SI writes it is “the closest any come to sports,” but should it be considered a sports movie?

Baseball is a defining element in Troy Maxson’s life and he talks about it A LOT, but the story is about moving on from sports and how to live without them. Troy is no longer an athlete and he has to get over it and stop speaking entirely in baseball metaphors.

This is not a sports movie. It is actually an anti-sports movie.

And it’s not even a movie. It’s a play. This movie has the exact stage direction and script as the play and you might as well just go see the live production except the cast is excellent in this film. But the whole time I felt like I was watching the play.

While Troy’s life is defined by baseball and his son plays football, this should not be categorized as a “sports movie” because no one actually plays sports in the movie/play. There is a Hit-Away type set up in the backyard that is used a couple times, Troy and his son Lyons get into a physical fight and Lyons shows up in a football uniform at the end but that’s the extent of the visual athletics in this movie.

The story is about Troy’s life with his family after baseball, not his life as a baseball player.

And the fences in the movie are not sports related, they are picket fences. I’ve read the play a million times and I know there are many metaphorical fences here to keep some people out and everything you love in and this includes fences surrounding baseball fields. But we don’t see those in this movie. The sports elements have to be visual to add to the case for sports movie. Building a fence around your house while talking about not striking out in life doesn’t count.

The true measure for me is the Netflix Test. Go to Netflix and click on Sports Movies. Look at the movies. Would you put “Fences” in with these movies? I would not. These movies are either about athletes actually playing sports or about the characters’ lives improving through playing sports. Baseball did not improve Troy’s life at all and he doesn’t live his life according to his baseball values. And he talks to his sons about the lessons of sports but then doesn’t allow Lyons to go to college on a football scholarship, killing his dream of playing sports. Anti-sports movie.

(The Netflix Test can be misleading though because “Lilo and Stitch” is listed in Sports Movies, but they surf in that movie so even that makes it more of a sports movie than Fences).

If Fences wins Best Picture at the Oscars on Sunday, it will not be a win for a sports movie. Sports movies are “Million Dollar Baby,” “Rocky,” “The Natural,” “Happy Gilmore.”

I would put this in Dramas on Netflix.