51088860MM017_manchurian

Of all of the gains made by Black actors in Hollywood in recent years, Denzel Washington is without a doubt the most successful actor-Black or White- on the planet.

His movie career defies categorization.

When I was a young child and teenager, Sidney Poitier was the standard bearer for African American actors.

Sidney’s portrayals were always cinematic masterpieces.

He cut an elegant figure even when his characters were bad guys such as in The Defiant Ones and the Blackboard Jungle.

Denzel has astutely taken up the mantle of excellence started by Sidney.

In fact, he has taken this mantle to a whole new level.

As I stated earlier, Denzel’s body of work defies categorization. But, his plethora of roles can be assessed by various character types that he has portrayed over the years.

REBEL

This past weekend I finally had a chance to see the movie Glory.

My brother who is an avid movie fan always raved about the movie.

Glory, which takes place during the Civil War, casts Denzel as a rebellious soldier to Morgan Freeman who is wiser and experienced.

Denzel’s character is forceful and nonconforming. These are character traits or flaws that would certainly have contributed to a short life span in the era of slavery!!!

I guess viewers of the movie would be divided over the merits of Denzel’s role. Perhaps some would have lauded him for bucking the system-saying that he was courageous.

Maybe the other half would censor him believing he would be far more effective in obtaining rights had he just played by the rules!!!

I loved him in this movie because he showed a strong mind capable of independent thought that slavery did not thwart.

Denzel returned to this character type again in the movie A Soldier’s Story.

He and his fellow soldiers were terrorized by their sergeant in a segregated unit. Their sergeant, who happens to be African American, psychologically brutalized his fellow African Americans out of his warped sense of inferiority to the White race.

Denzel faced extreme corporal punishment at the hands of this Black menace because once again, he refused to internalize the vile images reserved for Black people in America!!

Eventually he murders his Black tormentor and in the process invokes a dubious response from the audience.

MAN OF HONOR

Hands down Malcolm X is Denzel’s most important and famous portrayal as judged by the African American community.

This epic drama with a complex performance by Washington highlights a life started in darkness and ignorance and ended in enlightment.

Malcolm X’s life was a trajectory towards truth and understanding.

My best part of the movie was the rendition of a devoted and faithful husband. Of all the other important depictions in the movie, the image of Denzel as a loving husband resonated with me the most.

Maybe because this was at a time when the burgeoning Black Power movement was getting underway and the prevailing notion was the empowerment of the Black man at any cost!!!

This movie has forever changed and broadened my perception of Malcolm which up until that time had been shrouded in myth.

For example, towards the end of his life, Malcolm was a definitely a man of independent thinking and sought to imbue African Americans with this same independence.

THE ORIGINAL GANGSTER

I admit that I was disappointed when Denzel won the Academy Award for his role as a corrupt Los Angeles police officer.

I felt that it was more of the same stereotyping of African Americans on the silver screen.

I thought, why couldn’t he have won the award for Malcolm X? What was it about his performance in Training Day that struck a chord with the voting academy?

While not a member of that prestigious voting body composed of Hollywood’s elite, I can only surmise that Denzel somehow broke out of the mold or box that had come to define his body of work.

Please, don’t misunderstand me. I am not putting down the movie in any sense.

Honestly, Denzel gave a heck of a performance.

He was very, very convincing in his role. In fact, my Anger still rises when I even think of this movie.

I felt for the helpless victims whom I suspect in real life are routinely harassed by incorrigible police who are certainly not there to serve and protect!!.

With this break out role, Denzel could have easily pursued a successful career as the villain much as Jack Nicholson has done.

Ah!

At last we have him as an American original!!!

Denzel’s interpretation of the life of drug kingpin Frank Lucas extends Denzel’s performance in Training Day.

He was very convincing as a murderous drug dealing Harlem thug but with a twist!

Once he was targeted by police officials and eventually sentenced, his character was instrumental in exposing the corruption of New York City police in the profitable narcotics trade.

I guess his most “admirable” trait is his refusal to indict his fellow drug traffickers!!

Thus, we find ourselves rooting for the anti-hero.

Since his role as Frank Lucas in American Gangster, Denzel has gone on to even more lauded performances.

He has demonstrated an unusual range of acting ability.

Some actors have become pigeonholed and have never been able to break free.

Actors like Jack Nicholson and Anthony Perkins come to mind. Both are brilliant actors but their brilliance in portraying mad men has solidified them in that particular role.

This is not the case with Denzel. He can portray villains and bad guys back to back and then deliver a believable and outstanding performance as a revolutionary and a genuine man of honor.

Denzel definitely has serious skills.

To D-An American Original still bringing his A game!!!!

Until next time..

Advertisements