Actor Denzel Washington was honoured by Hollywood on Thursday for a pioneering career spanning five decades and two Oscars that opened the door for a generation of black movie stars.
Director and frequent collaborator Spike Lee presented the 64-year-old with the American Film Institute (AFI) Life Achievement award – billed as “the highest honour for a career in film” – at a gala event at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Hollywood’s small elite of A-list black leading men paid tribute to Washington’s trailblazing career – fellow Oscar winners Morgan Freeman, Jamie Foxx and Mahershala Ali took to the stage, as did Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan.
Shoulders of a giant
“You paved the way. You showed us the path. But what’s truly monumental is that your influence, your reach, transcends race without ever denying it,” said Ali.
He added: “We are here because we stand on the shoulders of a giant.”
“There is no Black Panther without Denzel Washington,” said Boseman, referring to Marvel Studios’ first film to focus on a black superhero.
Washington is one of only four black stars to win a best actor Oscar.
He won a best supporting actor Oscar for American Civil War epic Glory (1989) and a best actor statuette for his bad cop character in Antoine Fuqua’s crime thriller Training Day (2001).
One of cinema’s most versatile actors, Washington has received acclaim for both cerebral, nuanced roles and action parts in movies such as Man on Fire, American Gangster and Remember the Titans.
He portrayed the American Muslim minister and civil rights campaigner Malcolm X in Lee’s 1992 biopic.
Other recent recipients of the annual AFI lifetime achievement award include George Clooney, Al Pacino and Meryl Streep. Freeman and Sidney Poitier have also been honoured.