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 Todd Black, Randa Haines, and Washington 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.
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 couple, Mr. and Mrs. Tate (Ellis Williams and Novella Nelson). Antwone suffers years of physical and emotional abuse at Mrs. Tate's hands, and is molested by her adult daughter Nadine (Yolonda Ross). He finally leaves the home at age 14. After living out on the streets for the next few years, he decides to join the U.S. Navy to make something out of his life.
The rough life he had as a child has caused him to have a violent temper; 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), who attempts to get him to open up. Antwone is at first extremely resistant, but gradually comes to trust Davenport and opens up about his traumatic childhood. Meanwhile, 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 gets into a fight with a sailor who insinuates that he is gay, and is thrown into jail. Davenport meets him in jail, where Antwone confides the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Antwone eventually reveals to Cheryl that he sees a psychiatrist, 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, feeling everyone has abandoned him. He reveals his best friend Jesse (De'Angelo Wilson) was killed during an attempted robbery, and that he resents Jesse 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 Nadine and Mrs. Tate about their abuse. 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.
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 problems, and that treating Antwone prompted him to finally confront his demons. The film draws to a close as Davenport and Antwone go to eat.Derek Luke as Ship's Serviceman Third Class/Seaman Antwone "Fish" Fisher
Malcolm David Kelley as Antwone Fisher (Age 7)
Cory Hodges as Antwone Fisher (Age 14)
Denzel Washington as LCDR Dr. Jerome Davenport
Joy Bryant as Petty Officer Second Class Cheryl Smolley
Salli Richardson as Berta Davenport
Leonard Earl Howze as Pork Chop
Kente Scott as Kansas City
Kevin Connolly as Slim
Rainoldo Gooding as Grayson
Novella Nelson as Mrs. Tate
Vernee Watson-Johnson as Annette Elkins
Viola Davis as Eva May
Stephen Snedden as Berkley
Leo Nepomuceno as SP #1
Sung Kang as Davenport's Receptionist
Cordell Stokes as Keith
Ellis Williams as Reverend Tate
Timothy Reddick as Dwight
Yolonda Ross as Nadine Tate
De'Angelo Wilson as Jesse (Age 19)
Jascha Washington as Jesse (Age 8)
Andre Patton as Kenny
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Deric Elliz
Gary Russell as Hector Fisher
Doug Jewell as Spinoza
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. 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.
"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 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 that Antwone read the book to understand why Mrs. Tate abused him. Davenport does not intend to justify her actions, but he seeks to help 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.
“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.”
- Antwone Fisher
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. CinemaScore reported that audiences gave the film a rare "A+" grade.Black Reel Awards
Best Breakthrough Performance: Derek Luke (Winner)
Best Actor: Derek Luke (Winner)
Best Director: Denzel Washington (Winner)
Stanley Kramer Award