Antwone Fisher (film)

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Antwone Fisher
Antwone Fisher film poster.jpg
Theatrical film poster
Directed by Denzel Washington
Produced by Todd Black
Randa Haines
Denzel Washington
Written by Antwone Fisher
Starring Derek Luke
Denzel Washington
Malcolm David Kelley
Joy Bryant
Salli Richardson
Music by Mychael Danna
Cinematography Philippe Rousselot
Edited by Conrad Buff
Release dates
  • December 19, 2002 (2002-12-19)
Running time
120 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $12.5 million
Box office $23,367,586

Antwone Fisher is a 2002 American biographical drama film directed by Denzel Washington, marking his directorial debut.[1] He also stars in the film as the psychiatrist Jerome Davenport, alongside Hollywood newcomer Derek Luke, who plays the title role (and personally knew the real Antwone Fisher), and ex-model Joy Bryant, as Fisher's girlfriend.

The film is inspired by a true story, with the real Antwone Fisher credited as the screenwriter, and is based on his autobiographical book Finding Fish. The film was produced by Washington, Nancy Paloian, and Todd Black, and features a soundtrack by Mychael Danna.

Black was first inspired to make the film upon hearing the story from Fisher, who was then working as a security guard at Sony Pictures Studios.[citation needed]


The film focuses on Antwone "Fish" Fisher (Derek Luke), a temperamental young man with a violent history who is serving in the U.S. Navy. His father was killed before he was born and his teenage mother, Eva Mae Fisher, ended up arrested soon after and put in jail, where she gave birth to him. He was then placed in an orphanage until such time as she was released and could claim him. Since she had not yet claimed him, at the age of two Antwone was placed in a foster home run by a supposedly religious couple, Mr. and Mrs. Tate (Ellis Williams and Novella Nelson). There, Antwone faced mental and physical abuse by Mrs. Tate for many years until he finally left the home at age fourteen. After living out on the streets for the next few years, he decided to join the U.S. Navy to make something out of his life. However the rough life he had as child caused him to have a violent temper at this point.

After getting into a fight with a fellow sailor, Antwone is sentenced at a captain's mast to be demoted, fined, and restricted to the ship for 45 days. His commanding officer also orders him to go to psychiatric treatment. Antwone goes in to meet Dr. Jerome Davenport (Denzel Washington). Davenport attempts to get him to open up, but Antwone is at first extremely resistant. During his sessions, Antwone develops feelings for fellow Navy sailor Cheryl (Joy Bryant). With Antwone still getting into altercations, Davenport tries to explore his feelings for Cheryl in order to channel Antwone's feelings into something positive. Antwone finally goes on a date with Cheryl and establishes a relationship with her.

While on leave in Mexico, Antwone's sexuality is called into question by a sailor he had previously called an "Uncle Tom." The man's comments have an impact on Antwone and he gets into yet another fight. Antwone's thrown into jail. Davenport meets him in jail, where Antwone confides he was sexually abused as a child by Nadine Tate (Yolonda Ross), a member of the Tate household. Later on, Antwone eventually reveals to Cheryl that he sees a shrink and they share their first kiss.

At a Thanksgiving dinner, Davenport advises Antwone to find his real family. Antwone refuses, but thanks Davenport before inviting him to a graduation ceremony. Following the graduation ceremony, Davenport tells Antwone he's ending the sessions and feels Antwone needs to progress on his own. Antwone breaks down and feels everyone has abandoned him. He reveals his best friend was killed during an attempted robbery and he resents his friend for leaving him behind. Realizing he needs to find his parents to find closure, Antwone asks Cheryl to go with him to Cleveland. After a dead end at social services Antwone decides to return to the Tate household. There he confronts an older Nadine and Mrs. Tate about their abuses toward him. Mrs. Tate ultimately reveals Antwone's father's name: Edward Elkins.

After looking through multiple telephone books, Antwone comes into contact with his aunt Annette (Vernee Watson-Johnson) and visits her. Antwone learns his mother (Viola Davis) lives nearby, and goes to visit her. Antwone finds closure, forgives her, and leaves. When he returns to the Elkins household, he finds a feast prepared for him and finds the family he lost.

At the end of the film, Antwone visits Davenport and thanks him for everything. Davenport then replies that it is he who should be thanking Antwone. Davenport confesses that he had been failing to deal with his own psychological problems and that his interaction with Antwone prompted him to finally face that. The film draws to a close as Davenport and Antwone go to eat.


Finding Fish[edit]

Further information: Finding Fish

Finding Fish is an autobiographical account written by Antwone Fisher upon which the movie was based. The film generally follows the plot of the novel. However the book proceeds in a linear fashion while the movie is explained through various flashbacks. The movie stresses Antwone’s relationship with his doctor as opposed to the book, which chronicles Antwone’s entire life.


Antwone Fisher explains in his novel Finding Fish, that he took a free screen writing class at Bethel A.M.E. Church after a chance encounter with a limo driver. The class was taught by Chris Smith, who delivered an introduction to a producer named Todd Black. Black was impressed with Fisher’s story. Black reviewed the script for a week and told Fisher that though he couldn’t make a deal, he wanted to hire him full-time as a screenwriter. Fisher wrote 41 drafts until the script was sold by Black to 20th Century Fox. The film marks the directorial debut of Denzel Washington, the first screenwriting credit for Antwone Fisher, and the first feature film-role for Derek Luke. Washington was brought the script originally just to play the part of Jerome Davenport. But Washington’s agent called Black and told him he not only wanted to act in the film, he wanted it to be his directorial debut.

Fisher had known Luke as a young actor working at the Sony Pictures gift shop while he was writing the screenplay. Fisher encouraged Luke to try out for the part. An audition with casting director Robi Reed-Humes went well enough that Luke was called in to meet with Washington.[2] Washington was impressed with Luke’s audition and asked that he personally deliver the good news. Washington (aware that he was working with an unknown) stated that he wanted to give a younger generation of black actors their chance to come alive on-screen. To prepare the cast, Washington required each actor to know his/her character's history and story inside out before coming to the set. This mandate included everyone from Luke in the title role to key cast members like Vernée Watson Johnson, who plays Fisher's long-lost Aunt Annette, Novella Nelson in the role of Fisher's foster mother, Mrs. Tate, Viola Davis as Fisher's mother, newcomer De'Angelo K. Wilson, seen opposite rapper Eminem in 8 Mile, as the grown-up Jesse, Malcolm David Kelley as the young Antwone, and Corey Hodges as the teenage Antwone. Washington repeatedly told the cast and crew “We’re doing it for Antwone.”

Inspired by the story of a man who found hope and love through the help of an outstretched hand. In turn, the filmmakers sought to give back to the communities that supported them during the shoot. In the Cleveland neighborhood where the scenes of Fisher's youth and homecoming were shot, the filmmakers went out of their way to leave the urban area and its people in a better place than when they arrived. Structures like the apartment building where Eva Mae Fisher lived in the film and the house that was shot as Fisher's foster home were renovated and/or reinforced. Members of the community were hired to work on the production or as part of its preparation, and always Washington was out and about meeting people, shaking hands and offering thanks for their help.[3]


Antwone demonstrates difficulty forming relationships to abandonment issues he developed as a child. Antwone’s father left him after being shot and killed by an ex-girlfriend. His mother was incarcerated most of his childhood and did not take him back after being released. His best friend Jesse was killed in front of him while attempting a robbery (which Antwone had no involvement in). Antwone states his feelings that Jesse is the lucky one for being dead and not having to fight anymore.
Mrs. Tate, Antwone Fisher’s foster mother, verbally humiliates Antwone calling him and his brothers “nigga” instead of their actual names. Antwone and his brothers buy into Tate's view of their low self worth to the point they can tell who she is talking to by the way she says “nigguh”. Besides the verbal abuse, Tate regularly beats Antwone and locks him in dark rooms for hours on end. When Antwone finally demonstrated resistance to Tate’s beatings she used what Antwone calls “other ways” by playing upon Antwone’s pyrophobia (fear of fire). Tate’s cruelty is further exposed when she refuses to let Antwone go out and accuses him of stealing money (which he intended to use to go out to a concert). Antwone denies the unfounded accusation and states he got the money raking lawns. Tate demands he give the money to her explaining that “ a dumb nigguh like you wouldn’t know what to do with it.”Antwone is also sexually abused by Nadine Tate multiple times. He can only turn to his best friend Jesse to help him. The psychological effects demonstrate themselves as Antwone gets older by his inability to develop relationships with women (most particularly Cheryl). The abusive background leads to the rage Antwone feels as an adult who considers that the world conspires against him and that nothing good ever happens to him.
The subject of race comes up multiple times in the film. The first is at the beginning of the film when Antwone feels a white sailor is mocking him for the way his face looks when he shaves. Another time is when Mrs. Tate points out that Antwone’s foster brother Keith is superior to him due to having a white man for a father and being lighter-skinned. The lesson stays with Antwone to the point that he tells Davenport the order of adoption begins with light-skinned girls, then light-skinned boys, then dark-skinned girls, and dark-skinned boys being left for last. While Antwone waits in social services to obtain information about his parents, he notices advertisements for adoption. The viewer is then shown various posters of children who want to be adopted absent any dark-skinned boys. Antwone even calls a fellow sailor “an Uncle Tom” for his fraternizing with both white and black people despite the fact Antwone has white friends of his own.
At the beginning of the film, Antwone and his fellow sailors mock psychiatry and call the psych house “the nut house.” Antwone feels the profession is a foolish one and spends most of the first sessions refusing to acknowledge a problem and refusing to talk to Davenport. Eventually he relents and realizes the sessions are good for him. Antwone soon develops a dependence on the sessions and refuses to stop them because he believes Davenport is abandoning him just like everyone else had. Antwone also discusses his therapy sessions with Cheryl and understands if she wants to end their relationship because he’s “a nut.” Cheryl tells Antwone that her father (a Vietnam veteran) had also taken psychiatry and she felt there was nothing wrong with it.
The theme of healing is prevalent throughout the movie. Antwone feels enormous rage at being abandoned and feels that he is unwanted. He takes out this rage upon his fellow sailors in the Navy and is afraid to develop relationships (most notably with Cheryl). Davenport comments that Antwone is headed for a discharge, but Antwone seems largely indifferent. But through the guidance of Davenport, Antwone is able to open up and destroy the vicious cycle of self-destruction that he has fallen into. Antwone develops a bond of friendship with Davenport and a romantic relationship with Cheryl. At first, Antwone seems largely unconcerned with finding his family but eventually recognizes he needs to for closure to move on with his life. Finding his family brings the healing Antwone had sought and echoes his dream of sitting at a feast surrounded by loving family members (echoing the first scene of the film) with the little boy (referring to the poem "Who Will Cry For The Little Boy?") inside able to finally lay to rest.

Who will cry for the little boy?[edit]

"Who will cry for the little boy, lost and all alone?
Who will cry for the little boy, abandoned without his own?
Who will cry for the little boy? He cried himself to sleep.
Who will cry for the little boy? He never had for keeps.
Who will cry for the little boy? He walked the burning sand.
Who will cry for the little boy? The boy inside the man.
Who will cry for the little boy? Who knows well hurt and pain.
Who will cry for the little boy? He died and died again.
Who will cry for the little boy? A good boy he tried to be.
Who will cry for the little boy, who cries inside of me?"

The poem recited in the film joined other poems Fisher had written in a book called “Who Will Cry For the Little Boy?” Fisher states he was inspired to compile his poems after attending a lecture given by Maya Angelou. Angelou pointed out poetry as a way to pull ourselves from suffering and thus gave Fisher the push to create his book.

Fisher states in the Foreword section that no one had ever told him to write poetry but that he just did it for pleasure. He states

“... I find that writing poetry allows me to be whatever I want to be. Even when I had never been in love, I could write about what I hoped it would be once I found a love of my own. If I felt alone in the world, as I often did, I could write about how I had to be there for myself, because at the time the reality was that I was all I had. What poetry gives me is truth.”

- Antwone Fisher, Who Will Cry For the Little Boy?

Fisher says he drew the strength to write from his fellow sailors and wrote poems for them when they requested. But Fisher gives a special acknowledgement to Blue, a prisoner at Terminal Island where Fisher worked as a prison guard, for his inspiration to enroll his poems in a poetry contest.

The Slave Community[edit]

Further information: The Slave Community

The book The Slave Community, written by American historian John W. Blassingame and referenced in the film, was one of the first historical studies of slavery in the United States. The book contradicted others who suggested that African American slaves were in large-part submissive. Blassingame used psychology to determine the mentality developed by slaves during the era and possibly passed on to generations after.

Davenport suggests Antwone read the book to explain Tate’s beatings of him. Davenport does not intend to justify her actions, but he seeks to let Antwone understand where her mentality of beatings and verbal abuse to keep the foster children subservient came from. Antwone is seen briefly reading the book in the next scene.


Author’s reaction to the film[edit]

“When I saw the film for the first time, I was overwhelmed by a mixture of feelings: fear, joy, pride and satisfaction - all of which still linger, and I am certain they will for the rest of my life. I hope others, too, walk away with those same feelings and the courage to do something to better the lives of children in general. I hope that after seeing the movie and reading my memoir that people will see that every child has value and boundless potential and that even if all one has to give is an encouraging word as a genuine gesture of care. .. that gift alone can save a child's life and give hope for the future.”[3]

- Antwone Fisher


The film received favorable reviews from film critics, as review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 79% of critics gave the film positive write-ups, based on 144 reviews. Praise was given especially towards Washington's directing and Luke's performance.[4] CinemaScore reported that audiences gave the film a rare "A+" grade.



  • Blassingame, John W. The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South. New York: Oxford UP, 1979.Print.
  • Fisher, Antwone Quenton., and Mim Eipoopchler. Rivas. Finding Fish: a Memoir. New York: Morrow, 2001. Print.
  • Fisher, Antwone Quenton. Who Will Cry for the Little Boy?:Poems. New York: William Morrow, 2003. Print.


External links[edit]