Spike Lee Presents Denzel Washington with AFI Lifetime Achievement Award

Denzel Washington was given the American Film Institute (AFI) Lifetime Achievement Award by director Spike Lee.The event took place Thursday, June 6 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California. Those who attended the award ceremony to honor Washington included actors Chadwick Boseman, Morgan Freeman, Michael B. Jordan, Issa Rae and Jamie Foxx, according to a press release from the institute.

“Denzel Washington is a hero to audiences all over the world and an inspiration for artists across generations,” Bob Gazzale, AFI President & CEO, said in the statement. “Prepare for an extraordinary night as AFI brings together American film’s finest to raise a glass to a national treasure.” Lee first worked with Washington during the 1990 film Mo’ Better Blues, a drama about a Black jazz trumpeter, according to IMDb. The two also worked on the 1992 film Malcolm X, which Lee also directed. During his speech, he compared Washington to other extraordinarily talented actors and singers throughout the years.

“We are talking about the GOAT. We are talking about Michael Jordan. We are talking about Frank Sinatra,” Lee said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “We are talking about Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis. That is the rarified air that Denzel Washington lives and breathes in."Other actors in attendance noted how important it was to see Washington on the big screen throughout his career and how he fueled others to pursue acting, The Hollywood Reporter reported.

"Mr. Washington's arrival was a seismic moment for my generation. It was hard to articulate the pride we all felt in seeing one of us as a leading man working at the highest level," said Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, according to the publication. Chadwick Boseman, the lead of the popular Marvel film Black Panther, told the audience that “there would be no Black Panther without Denzel Washington,” The Hollywood Reporter reported.

Washington has achieved plenty throughout his career. The eight-time Oscar nominee won his first Academy Award for his performance in the 1989 film Glory, which tells the story of the US Civil War’s first all-black volunteer infantry regiment, the 54th Massachusetts, according to the Oscars website. In 2001, he won an Academy Award for his performance in Training Day, which is about a police veteran working with a rookie cop in Los Angeles, according to IMDb. He’s also starred in other films like the 1996 film The Preacher’s Wife and the 2007 film American Gangster.

"If nothing else, I am living proof of the power of God. Anything you think you see and you think you know where it comes from, the opportunities that I have been afforded, I have been given by the grace of God," Washington said during his acceptance speech, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

After thanking his presenter, Lee, and others who had said kind words about him, he suggested to the audience to think about how they can make the world a better place for children, the outlet reported.

"In this Twitter, meme, mean world we have created for our children, the least we can do is think about young people and the future and to, collectively, do the best we can to try to turn this thing around. What an opportunity we have, because tomorrow is the first day of the rest of our lives," he said, according to the publication.

Other winners of the award include Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks, Sidney Poitier, Gene Kelly, and many others. In a tribute on the AFI website, actor James Earl Jones wrote that Washington continues to pave the way for Black actors, just as famous actors like Paul Robeson and Sidney Poitier did for him.

“There was a time when it was rare to find role models in our community that stood tall among the great artists of their time – of all time. For me, Paul Robeson paved the way, and Sidney Poitier lit the path. A pioneer and a contemporary – luminaries both, and exceptions to the rule,” wrote Jones. “Through his work, Denzel carries their work forward – and, in fact, has expanded the appreciation of talent beyond the constraining walls of race. Denzel is a hero to all.” The award show will air on TNT on June 20 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT, followed by an encore at 11:30 p.m. ET/PT.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.