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Washington, Denzel

Washington, Denzel

December 28, 1954

Born into a middle-class family in Mount Vernon, New York, actor Denzel Washington is one of three children of a Pentecostal minister and a beauty shop owner. His parents divorced when he was fourteen, and Washington went through a rebellious period. Consequently, his mother sent him to boarding school at Oakland Academy in Windsor, New York. He went on to matriculate at Fordham University in New York City.

Washington became interested in acting while at college. When he was a senior at Fordham, he won a small role in the television film Wilma, the story of Olympic track star Wilma Rudolph. After graduating with a B.A. in journalism in 1978, Washington spent a year at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater.

Washington's first film, Carbon Copy (1981), received little notice. However, his portrayals of Malcolm X in When the Chickens Come Home to Roost by Laurence Holder (Audelco Award, 1980) and Private Peterson in A Soldier's Play by Charles Fuller (Obie Award, 1981) brought him to the attention of New York's theater critics. After refusing to take roles that he deemed degrading, Washington took the part of the idealistic surgeon Dr. Philip Chandler on the popular hospital television drama series St. Elsewhere (19821988). In 1984, accompanied by most of the original stage cast, Washington reprised his role as Private Peterson in A Soldier's Story, the film version of A Soldier's Play.

Despite his consistently powerful performances, it was not until the end of the 1980s that Washington was acknowledged as one of America's leading actors. He appeared as martyred South African activist Stephen Biko in Cry Freedom (1987), a policeman in The Mighty Quinn, and the embittered ex-slave and Union soldier Trip in Glory, both in 1989. Washington received an Academy Award nomination for his work in Cry Freedom and in 1990 won an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his performance in Glory. That same year he played the title role in Richard III in the New York Shakespeare Festival.

In 1990 Washington starred as a jazz musician in director Spike Lee's film Mo' Better Blues. He teamed with Lee again in 1992, playing the title role in the controversial film Malcolm X. The film received mixed reviews, but Washington's performance as the black nationalist was a critical success, and he received an Oscar nomination as best actor. The following year he appeared in leading roles in three films to much acclaim. He portrayed Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, in Kenneth Branagh's version of the Shakespearean comedy Much Ado About Nothing, an investigative reporter in the thriller The Pelican Brief, and a trial lawyer in Philadelphia. In 1995 he starred with Gene Hackman in Crimson Tide. His starring roles since then have included Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), an adaptation of Walter Mosley's novel; Courage Under Fire (1996); The Preacher's Wife (1997); Love Jones (1997); Fallen (1998); He Got Game (1998); The Siege (1998); Remember the Titans (2000); John Q (2002); Antwone Fisher (2002); Out of Time (2003); Man on Fire (2004); and The Manchurian Candidate (2004).

Washington won a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his role in The Hurricane (1999) and an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Training Day (2001).

See also Film in the United States, Contemporary


Brode, Douglas. Denzel Washington: His Films and Career. Se-caucus, N.J.: Carol, 1997.

Davis, Thulani. "Denzel in the Swing." American Film (August 1990): 2631.

Hoban, Phoebe. "Days of Glory: Denzel WashingtonFrom Spike Lee's Blues to Richard III." New York Magazine (August 13, 1990): 3538.

Randolph, Laura B. "The Glory Days of Denzel Washington." Ebony (September 1990): 8082.

jane lusaka (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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