Hollywood Shuffle is a series that celebrates our cultural icons in film and television whose performances have resonated with generations of viewers. From the pioneering actors and actresses who’ve helped break barriers and pave the way for those to follow, to the most promising and decorated thespians of today, their dedication to their craft is respected and appreciated.
Throughout his career, Denzel Washington has proved himself to be a jack of all trades. A native New Yorker, Washington got his start acting in theatre, performing in off-broadway plays before moving onto television. Making his debut in the 1977 television film Wilma, Washington made the leap to the big screen with his appearance in the 1981 film Carbon Copy but truly hit his stride with his role as Dr. Phillip Chandler in the medical drama St. Elsewhere.
After splitting his time between television and film in the ’80s, Washington ended the decade on a high note, won an Academy Award, and established himself as a bonafide star. Throughout the ’90s, Washington cemented himself as the preeminent leading man, with a succession of pivotal roles and performances that showcased his versatility and ability to capture and captivate the imagination of viewers. Within the last two decades, Denzel has added to his legend with historic accomplishments and even more memorable moments. His most recent role as Lord Macbeth in The Tragedy of Macbeth has earned him his seventh Oscar nomination for Best Actor and his ninth overall. The 94th Academy Awards, which takes place this Sunday (March 27), will provide Washington with another opportunity to separate himself even further from the pack as the most decorated Black male actor of all time.
In this edition of Hollywood Shuffle, VIBE looks back on the 10 iconic roles that have defined Denzel Washington’s career.
Private Silas Trip In 'Glory'
Premise: Joining the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the Union Army’s first African-American regiment in the American Civil War, Private Silas Trip helps prepare and corral his fellow troops ahead of the biggest battle of their lives. The performance earned Denzel his second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, which he won, giving him his first Oscar of his career.
Memorable Line: “Y’all’s the onliest family I got. I love the 54th. Ain’t even much a matter what happens tomorrow, ’cause we men, ain’t we?”
Minifield "Bleek" Gilliam In 'Mo' Better Blues'
Premise: Enraptured with the sound of his trumpet, Bleek Gilliam finds himself caught in the middle of a love-triangle, forced to decided between the love for his music and that of his romantic partners. The leader of The Bleek Quintet, internal friction within his band of musicians, as well as his manager and lifelong friend Giant’s gambling habits, puts Gilliam between a rock and a hard place, as he struggles to juggle the moving parts of his life.
Memorable Line: “Black queen. l mean, my slice of pie. The apple of my eye. My chicken thigh, extra spicy. Ham, Spam. Eggs and bacon, chicken and waffles. From Wilsons. How you doing, baby? You’re looking good to me.”
Malcolm Little / Malcolm X In 'Malcolm X'
Premise: Directed by Spike Lee, this film tells the life story of Civil Rights activist Malcolm X, from his days as a career criminal through his incarceration, conversion to Islam, and his tragic demise. Washington earned his first Oscar nod for Best Actor for this role, but was ultimately beat out by Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman), an outcome that remains subject to scrutiny.
Memorable Line: “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth landed on us!”
Jake Shuttlesworth In 'He Got Game'
Premise: Imprisoned for committing an act that splits his family apart, Jake Shuttlesworth is propositioned with persuading his disgruntled son, high school basketball star Jesus Shuttlesworth, with signing a letter of intent to play at Big State University in exchange for his freedom.
Memorable Line: “Let me tell you something son, you get that hatred out your heart, or you’ll end up just another nigga, like your father.”
Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter In 'The Hurricane'
Premise: Middleweight boxer and title contender Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter is sentenced to three consecutive life sentences in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a triple homicide. While languishing behind bars, a young man from Brooklyn assists Carter in his fight for his freedom and to clear his sullied reputation. The film garnered Washington the second Best Actor nod of his career at the Academy Awards the following year. However, he would ultimately fall short, losing out in the category to Kevin Spacey (American Beauty).
Memorable Line: “Hate put me in prison. Love’s gonna bust me out.”
Coach Herman Boone In 'Remember The Titans'
Premise: Amid integration at T. C. Williams High School in Virginia, Herman Boone is brought on as head coach of the school’s football team, the first featuring White and Black athletes playing together. Tension and tragedy arises between both factions, with Boone and assistant Coach Bill Yoast, addressing their own differences while helping their players – and community – reach common ground, on and off the field.
Memorable Line: “We will be perfect in every aspect of the game. You drop a pass, you run a mile. You miss a blocking assignment, you run a mile. You fumble the football, and I will break my foot off in your John Brown hind parts, and then you will run a mile.”
Detective Alonzo Harris In 'Training Day'
Premise: LAPD Officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) looking to move up the command rank is assigned to Narcotics Detective Alonzo Harris (Washington), who gives him a crash course on patrolling the streets. However, Harris isn’t your average officer of the law, blurring the lines between the good guys and the gangsters, making this ride-along one that Hoyt will never forget. Earning his third Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards, Denzel would finally break through, becoming the second Black actor in history to win receive the prestigious honor.
Memorable Line: “King Kong ain’t got sh*t on me!”
John Quincy Archibald In 'John Q.'
Premise: A father goes to extreme measures to facilitate a heart transplant for his ailing son, taking a hospital under siege at gunpoint to ensure the child’s survival.
Memorable Line: “My son is dying, and I’m broke. If I don’t qualify for Medicare, WHO THE HELL DOES?”
Detective Keith Frazier In 'Inside Man'
Premise: Detective Keith Frazier is thrust into a hostage negotiation with the mastermind behind an elaborate bank heist, utilizing his experience and tactical training in an attempt to ensure the safety of innocent civilians.
Memorable Line: “Sorry to interrupt you, Mister Mayor, but there’s an old American saying: When there’s blood on the streets, somebody’s gotta go to jail.”
Frank Lucas In 'American Gangster'
Premise: Frank Lucas rises from chauffeur to kingpin, cultivating a heroin pipeline that thrusts him to the forefront of Harlem’s drug trade.
Memorable Line: “That’s a clown suit. That’s a costume, with a big sign on it that says “Arrest me”. You understand? You’re too loud, you’re making too much noise. Listen to me, the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.”