Golden Globe audiences were baffled on Sunday by references to perhaps the most celebrated film of the evening, which had the slight disadvantage of not existing: Hidden Fences. First, on the red carpet, Jenna Bush congratulated Pharrell Williams for his nomination for Hidden Fences:
Williams was actually nominated for his work on the soundtrack for Hidden Figures, not Hidden Fences. There’s an entirely separate film called Fences, of course, but Michael Keaton alluded to the title again when announcing the nominees for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, in which he credited Octavia Spencer for her work in Hidden Fences:*
In fact, Spencer was nominated for the Golden Globe for Hidden Figures, while another nominee in the category, Viola Davis, was nominated (and won) for her work in Fences. But though audiences who aren’t well-schooled in the traditions of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association may have been puzzled, there was nothing surprising to longtime watchers of the Globes. It’s part of a long tradition of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association recommending, for reasons that remain unclear, that the titles of films be improved by the inclusion of the word fence.
Sidney Poitier was the first actor to receive this helpful suggestion, when the HFPA nominated him in 1959 for The Defiant Fence. He returned in 1962 for A Raisin in the Fence before finally winning for his show-stopping performance in 1964’s Lilies of the Fence. The first woman to win a Best Actress Golden Globe for a fence-related film was Whoopi Goldberg for 1986’s The Color Fence.
The early 1990s were a golden age for fencing on film, as the HFPA recognized classics like Do the Right Fence and Malcolm Fence. And even if it snubbed some worthy contenders (Boyz n the Fence, Fences of the Dust, Devil in a Blue Fence), it’s been making up for lost time this decade, honoring 12 Years a Fence, 25th Fence, and, of course, this year’s Hidden Fences.
The HFPA’s motives have always been obscure, although it’s possible it have some kind of payola setup with this Wisconsin firm. But even more mysterious is their system for choosing films to retitle. Although the films they honored were definitely improved by being en-fenced, that’s true of hundreds of films that were snubbed, going all the way back to The Fence of a Nation. But if there’s anything these films have in common besides titles that would have been better if they’d contained the word fence, no one has ever discovered it.
*Correction, Jan. 9, 2017: This post originally misstated that Michael Keaton mistakenly referred to Fences star Viola Davis’ work in Hidden Fences. In fact, Keaton mistakenly referred to Hidden Figures’ star Octavia Spencer’s work in Hidden Fences. The post has been updated throughout to reflect this correction.