I thought we could spend this week with Denzel Washington.
Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr. (born December 28, 1954) is an American actor and filmmaker.
Washington has received much critical acclaim for his film work since the 1990s, including his portrayals of real-life figures such as Steve Biko, Malcolm X, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Melvin B. Tolson, Frank Lucas, and Herman Boone. He has been a featured actor in the films produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and was a frequent collaborator of the late director Tony Scott.
Washington has received two Golden Globe awards, a Tony Award, and two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Glory (1989) and Best Actor for Training Day (2001).
Early life and education
Washington was born in Mount Vernon, near New York City. His father, Reverend Denzel Hayes Washington, Sr., a native of Buckingham County, Virginia, served as an ordained Pentecostal minister, and also worked for the Water Department and at a local department store, S. Klein. His mother, Lennis “Lynne”, was a beauty parlor owner and operator born in Georgia and partly raised in Harlem.
Washington attended Pennington-Grimes Elementary School in Mount Vernon until 1968. When he was 14, his parents broke up, and his mother sent him to a private preparatory school, Oakland Military Academy in New Windsor, New York. “That decision changed my life,” Washington later said, “because I wouldn’t have survived in the direction I was going. The guys I was hanging out with at the time, my running buddies, have now done maybe 40 years combined in the penitentiary. They were nice guys, but the streets got them.” After Oakland, Washington next attended Mainland High School, a public high school in Daytona Beach, Florida, from 1970 to 1971. He was interested in attending Texas Tech University: “I grew up in the Boys Club in Mount Vernon, and we were the Red Raiders. So when I was in high school, I wanted to go to Texas Tech in Lubbock just because they were called the Red Raiders and their uniforms looked like ours.” Washington attended Texas College, and earned a B.A. in Drama and Journalism from Fordham University in 1977. At Fordham, he played collegiate basketball as a guard under coach P.J. Carlesimo. After a period of indecision on which major to study and dropping out of school for a semester, Washington worked as creative arts director at an overnight summer camp, Camp Sloane YMCA in Lakeville, Connecticut. He participated in a staff talent show for the campers and a colleague suggested he try acting.
Returning to Fordham that fall with a renewed purpose, Washington enrolled at the Lincoln Center campus to study acting, and where he was given the title roles in Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones and Shakespeare’s Othello. He then attended graduate school at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where he stayed for one year before returning to New York to begin a professional acting career.
Washington at the 62nd Academy Awards, at which he won Best Supporting Actor for the film Glory.
Washington spent the summer of 1976 in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, in summer stock theater performing Wings of the Morning, the Maryland State play, which was written for him by incorporating an African-American character/narrator based loosely on the historical figure from early colonial Maryland, Mathias Da Sousa. He also filmed a series of commercials in the Fruit of the Loom ensemble, as Grapes. Shortly after graduating from Fordham, Washington made his screen acting debut in the 1977 made-for-television film Wilma, and his first Hollywood appearance in the 1981 film Carbon Copy. He shared a 1982 Distinguished Ensemble Performance Obie Award for playing Private First Class Melvin Peterson in the Off-Broadway Negro Ensemble Company production A Soldier’s Play which premiered November 20, 1981.
A major career break came when he starred as Dr. Phillip Chandler in NBC’s television hospital drama St. Elsewhere, which ran from 1982 to 1988. He was one of only a few African-American actors to appear on the series for its entire six-year run. He also appeared in several television, motion picture and stage roles, such as the films A Soldier’s Story (1984), Hard Lessons (1986) and Power (1986). In 1987, he starred as South African anti-apartheid political activist Steven Biko in Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom, for which he received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In 1989, Washington won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of a defiant, self-possessed ex-slave soldier in the film Glory. That same year, he appeared in the film The Mighty Quinn; and in For Queen and Country, where he played the conflicted and disillusioned Reuben James, a British soldier who, despite a distinguished military career, returns to a civilian life where racism and inner city life lead to vigilantism and violence.
In 1990, Washington starred as Bleek Gilliam in the Spike Lee film Mo’ Better Blues. In 1992, he starred as Demetrius Williams in the romantic drama Mississippi Masala. Washington was reunited with Lee to play one of his most critically acclaimed roles, the title character of 1992’s Malcolm X. His performance as the black nationalist leader earned him another nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The next year he played the lawyer of a gay man with AIDS in the 1993 film Philadelphia. During the early and mid-1990s, Washington starred in several successful thrillers, including The Pelican Brief and Crimson Tide, as well as in the comedy Much Ado About Nothing. In 1996, he played a U.S. Army officer who, despondent about a deadly mistake he made, investigates a female chopper commander’s worthiness for the Medal of Honor in Courage Under Fire with Meg Ryan. In 1996, he appeared with Whitney Houston in the romantic drama The Preacher’s Wife.
In 1998, Washington starred in Spike Lee’s film He Got Game. Washington played a father serving a six-year prison term when the prison warden offers him a temporary parole to convince his top-ranked high-school basketball player son (Ray Allen) to sign with the governor’s alma mater, Big State. The film was Washington’s third collaboration with Lee.
In 1999, Washington starred in The Hurricane, a film about boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, whose conviction for triple murder was overturned after he spent almost 20 years in prison. A former reporter, who was angry that the film portrayed Carter as innocent despite the overturned conviction, began a campaign to pressure Academy Award voters not to vote for the film. Washington did receive a Golden Globe Award in 2000 and a Silver Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival for the role.
In 2010, Washington presented the Arthur Ashe ESPY Award to Loretta Claiborne for her courage. He later appeared as himself presenting the award, in the conclusion of the film The Loretta Claiborne Story.