TheGrio Awards, Film Icon: Denzel Washington

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Throughout his 40-year career, Washington earned two Oscars and a Tony Award, and has been nominated for two Emmy Awards, and a Grammy.

When it comes to making work that impacts the culture, Denzel Washington is unmatched. His expansive career as an actor, producer, and director continues to uplift and enlighten so many, and he just keeps getting better.

Washington’s career stretches throughout four decades, with him as the leading man in front of and behind the camera. Most recently, the famed actor reprised his role as the justice-serving Robert McCall for “The Equalizer 3,” the final installment of the film series.

The film started strong at the box office, pulling in $42.8 million domestically, making it the second-best Labor Day opening ever, according to Variety. As of Nov. 5, the film had grossed nearly $186 million worldwide.

Denzel Washington, Oscar,
Winner of the best actor Academy Award for his performance In “Training Day,” Denzel Washington poses at The Govenor’s Ball after the 74Th Annual Academy Awards March 24, 2002 at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, Calif. (Photo By Getty Images)

Washington first appeared in the film trilogy in 2014 for “The Equalizer.” He returned in 2018 for “The Equalizer 2.” The movie was adapted from the 1985 television drama series of the same name.

As he closes the curtains on the thriller franchise, he is making space for his next project, slated to premiere in 2024. He is set to co-star in the sequel to the Oscar best picture winner “Gladiator.” With Denzel Washington added to the film’s cast, there is no doubt the accolades will flow from his highly anticipated performance.

Throughout his 40-year career, Washington earned two Oscars and a Tony Award, and has been nominated for two Emmy Awards, and a Grammy.

In 1989, Washington established his acting talents after winning his first Oscar, for best supporting actor in “Glory.” In the film, he portrayed a runaway slave in a historical period piece about the first all-Black military unit in the North during the Civil War. Washington starred alongside Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes, Andre Braugher, and Matthew Broderick. His critically acclaimed role earned him a Golden Globe, NAACP Image Award, and a slew of nominations in addition to his Academy Award. In 2016, he won the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes for his astounding achievements in the entertainment industry.

The entertainer’s portrayal of the corrupt police officer Alonzo Harris in “Training Day” received enormous praise when it premiered in 2001. Washington won his second Oscar, for best actor in a leading role, for his performance and was just the second Black actor to win in that category. With his career catapulting into new realms, his winning streak remained consistent. In 2010, Washington won a Tony Award after starring in the Broadway production of August Wilson’s “Fences,” a role he repeated for the 2016 film adaption, and in which he starred alongside Viola Davis both times.

Washington’s prominence as a well-established artist is evident by his double-digit, award-winning credentials that make any project he is in a guaranteed success. He has generated over $3 billion worldwide with his leading roles in many projects. Though he possesses a never-ending list of films and movies in his portfolio, his start in theater laid the foundation that propelled him into his cinematic endeavors.

One of Washington’s first paid acting gigs was in the play “Wings of the Morning,” portraying a Maryland historical figure, Mathias de Sousa. He eventually found his way on the big screen in the 1981 dramedy “Carbon Copy.” From there, he became a series regular on NBC’s hospital drama “St. Elsewhere.” He played Dr. Philip Chandler for six seasons, from 1982 to 1988. As Washington’s acting résumé and reputation started to expand, he was placed on Hollywood’s radar as a gifted actor whose talent could captivate audiences.

He was recognized for his ability to portray real-life figures in projects such as 1987’s “Cry Freedom,” where he depicted Steve Biko, the anti-apartheid activist who founded the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. After winning his Academy Award for “Glory,” Washington’s visibility increased, and he was abundantly commended for his stellar work in the ’90s. One of his depictions that was massively applauded by audiences and critics was of the human rights activist in Spike Lee’s 1992 film “Malcolm X.” In 1999, he channeled his inner boxer persona as Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in the film “The Hurricane.”

When he was not playing the lead, he co-starred in major productions, including “The Pelican Brief,” “Philadelphia,” “Crimson Tide,” “The Preacher’s Wife,” and “Courage Under Fire.” He continued his run of playing symbolic figures with his roles as football coach Herman Boone in the 2000 release of “Remember the Titans,” poet and educator Melvin B. Tolson in 2007’s “The Great Debaters,” and drug lord Frank Lucas in “American Gangster” that same year.

In the early 2000s, the actor increased his skill set by becoming a director. In 2002, he made his directorial debut with “Antwone Fisher,” a film he also starred in. Then in 2007, he starred in and directed “The Great Debaters.” From there, Washington consistently delivered hit after hit, elevating Hollywood’s standards and ultimately making him a tough act to follow among his peers. He appeared in a whirlwind of motion pictures in the 2010s: “Flight,” “Safe House,” “2 Guns,” “The Book of Eli,” and the first chapter of his recurring role in the “Equalizer” film franchise. At the height of his booming fame and fortune, the powerhouse returned to the Broadway stage with his role in “Fences” before directing its film version in 2016.

Washington’s admiration for August Wilson and his body of plays is evidenced in his production catalog. In 2015, the actor announced that he would produce 10 of Wilson’s plays after gaining rights to the playwright’s estate. “Fences” was Washington’s first production. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was the second play he adapted into the 2020 film. It streamed on Netflix and starred heavyweights Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman. “The Piano Lesson” is the next play Washington is set to produce from Wilson’s collection.

Denzel Washington
(Photo by Erik Voake/Getty Images for WarnerMedia)

Washington never misses the mark as he switches between acting, producing, and directing. In 2021, he starred in the film adaptation “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” which led to another box office milestone. Washington played the king of Scotland and executed a noteworthy performance, as was to be expected from the megastar. He received an Oscar nomination for best actor, which made him the most nominated Black actor in Academy Awards history.

Washington’s monumental stamp extends beyond his dominance in Hollywood and eminence in theater.

His committed generosity to underserved communities has not gone unnoticed. He has been a devoted supporter of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. For over 30 years, Washington served as the spokesperson for the organization. He has helped fundraise and made charitable donations. His philanthropic efforts also include his continued support of future generations through his Denzel Washington Family Foundation. In 2007, he committed to donating $1 million to support members of the Wiley College debate team. The Texas HBCU, which was the subject of his movie “The Great Debaters,” will receive $100,000 annually for the next decade to fulfill his commitment.

Washington’s career longevity reflects the undeniable talent he has exhibited since his earlier days in acting. His cinematic presence has allured audiences of all ages, something very few entertainers can accomplish.

Washington is a national treasure.

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