Of all the performers we're highlighting during Black History Month, he may very well be the most incredible actor among them. In 2020, the New York Times declared Denzel Washington the greatest actor of the 21st century.
How You Know Him
He's been impressing audiences on the big screen for close to 40 years and over 50 feature films. He's won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the civil war classic "Glory" (1989). He's won an Academy Award for Best Actor for the cop thriller "Training Day" (2001) – and that's correct, King Kong doesn't have anything on his badass cop and performance.
He also should have won Best Actor for his roles as real-life and wrongly convicted boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in "The Hurricane" (1999) and civil rights leader Malcolm X in Spike Lee's epic film "Malcolm X" (1992). He was, though, nominated for Oscars for both, along with more Academy Award nominations for "Cry Freedom" (Best Supporting Actor) and "Flight," "Fences" and "Roman J. Israel, Esq." (all for Best Actor).
Beyond his accolades as a performer, Denzel's directed "Fences" (which received multiple nominations and an Oscar win for Viola Davis), and the well-received "Antwone Fisher" and "The Great Debaters."
Far from being an awards-only kind of movie star, Denzel's starred in plenty of commercial blockbusters: everything from the submarine actioner "Crimson Tide" with Gene Hackman; the John Grisham legal thriller "Pelican Brief" with Julia Roberts; the western "The Magnificent Seven" opposite Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt; the crime thriller "The Bone Collector" with Angelina Jolie; the current hit thriller "The Little Things" with fellow Oscar winners Rami Malek and Jared Leto; and lots more, including Spike Lee's "Inside Man," Tony Scott's "Man on Fire" and "Unstoppable," and Ridley Scott's "American Gangster."
Their Life So Far
Washington grew up in Mount Vernon, New York, and credits both the Boys Club and being sent to the Oakland Military Academy with helping to keep him on the straight and narrow. He attended Fordham University and studied drama and journalism, and then attended graduate school at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Later in his career, he would return to his theatrical roots, appearing in various productions of "A Raisin in the Sun," "The Iceman Cometh" and a Broadway version of "Fences" with Viola Davis that he'd help bring to the big screen.
His original path to the big screen started on the small screen after he was cast as a caring and charismatic doctor on tv's "St. Elsewhere," a series he would remain with from 1982 – 1988. While still on the show, he made inroads in movies, culminating with his first Oscar nomination as South African activist Steven Biko in "Cry Freedom" and the eventual Oscar win for "Glory."
Since then, he's evolved into one of the world's most reliable movie stars, and one of the late-blooming generation of action stars, with hits "The Equalizer" and "The Equalizer 2" (his first sequel).
Denzel's also a proud father with wife Pauletta Pearson of four children, including one of today's new electric movie stars, John David Washington ("BlacKkKlansman," "Tenet" and "Malcolm & Marie").
Finally, Denzel's a producer on one of 2020's best films, the adaptation of August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," starring Viola Davis and the late, irreplaceable Chadwick Boseman.
The Movie to Watch
While it's nearing 30 years since its release, Denzel's performance and Spike Lee's epic "Malcolm X" has lost none of the project's incendiary and provocative power. It's just as relevant, and maybe even more so, in our current times. Denzel goes so far into the real-life activist's character that it's impossible to distinguish actor from man. It's also highly informative and enlightening to see how he transforms himself through the icon's various eras. It's necessary moviewatching, and both the film and the portrayal are highlights for the actor and Lee.
Biography / 1992
A tribute to the controversial black activist and leader of the struggle for black liberation. He hit bottom during his imprisonment in the '50s, he became a Black Muslim and then a leader in the Nation of Islam. His assassination in 1965 left a legacy of self-determination and racial pride.
What's Up Next
Denzel will star as Lord Macbeth to Frances McDormand's Lady Macbeth in the first film directed by Joel Coen (also McDormand's husband) that won't feature his brother and filmmaking partner Ethan Coen.
Also on deck for Denzel is his directing project "Journal for Jordan," starring Michael B. Jordan in the story of a soldier in war writing journal entries for his newborn back home.
And if we can add our own two cents…hopefully…please…some day soon…a project for real-life father and son Denzel and John David Washington would be amazing for everyone.
More Black History Month Highlights: