Photos by Eric Salvary for RESPECT.
“Where’s my wife?” Let those words echo through your head in your favorite Denzel Washington character voice. Those are the words I heard Denzel say as I waited in the media scrum for my opportunity to interview the Iconic Mr. Washington. He was in the middle of giving an interview with another media outlet, talking about the important parts of his life that got him to where he is today…his wife, Pauletta Washington, was just out of his vision. In that moment, you could clearly see what mattered the most to him: not the media, not the fact the he was receiving a lifetime achievement award (named after the legendary Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee), not the fact that he was the big catch for the (re-)grand opening of the legendary Crossroads Theater, one of the first Black theaters to receive a Tony Award in the country.
The night was hosted by David Allen Grier, who revisited some of his best memories with Denzel and brought the audience to laughter with a memory of when Washington visited them on the set of the early 90’s hit Boomerang while still in-character for his iconic portrayal of Malcolm X. The only moment that topped that story is when Grier reiterated a point Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee’s children (Guy Davis, Hasna Muhammad) brought up the slap scene Between Dee and Washington from American Gangster, as it reminded them of their mother in real life (“well… she did slap the s*** out of you Denzel”). Tributes were delivered by Phylicia Rashad, Courtney B. Vance and Woodie King Jr.; theater/musical performances were by Omar Edwards, Rob Karma Robertson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lynda Gravatt, Ashley Tamar Davis and Gregory Porter.
The theme of family echoed through the night as each presenter acknowledged and thanked Denzel’s wife for sharing the gift that he was within the world of acting. Denzel’s acceptance speech was one of a kind, as he acknowledged his faith, his family and how “surprised I am by life and I’m the one living it,” as he put it. He also talked about the milestone moment when his son, John David Washington, was nominated 4 times for his role in BlacKkKlansman…
…which brings me back to a question I had for Denzel; I asked him if he would like to do a movie with his son, to which he replied that “that’s a question for him.” Yes, it was a short answer, but the encapsulation of the night gave me all the answers I needed, and he certainly left to door open for the possibility. That, coupled with the thought of him saying that he’s “just getting started” as a still-evolving actor during his acceptance speech, leaves much to the imagination of what’s to come for Denzel and the rest of the Washington legacy!
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