By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM

Denzel Washington enjoys session at Los Angeles film festival. Photo Charlene Muhammad

LOS ANGELES ( – People love Denzel Washington, not just the ladies, contrary to popular belief.  

In an in-depth Question and Answer interview, a sold-out theatre audience learned a bit more about why one of the most highly sought after actors in Hollywood, who spoke freely and frankly with director Carl Franklin, appeals to men, women and children.

The appearance Feb. 14 was part of the 23rd Annual Pan African Film and Art Festival, which lasted for 10 days.


Mr. Washington laughed heartily when talking about antics as a young boy protected in the grips of the Boys and Girls Club in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., his upbringing, and numerous lessons taught by his mother and others in her beauty shop.

When he was 20, a woman who was believed to be the gift of prophecy told him that he’d travel the world and speak to millions of people. “I’d flunked out of school, sitting in my mother’s beauty shop May 27, 1975 … and I have traveled the world and spoke to millions of people through my work and on days like today,” Mr. Washington said.

His smile lit up the theatre when he spoke about the love of his life, wife Pauletta, and the sacrifices the actress and pianist in her own right makes as his wife and to support him in his career.  

He beamed with pride yet showed humility when sharing the journeys of his children–the NFL player who has also become an actor and a daughter, a studied actress, poised to follow in her father’s footsteps.

There aren’t roles he feels he should have had or taken and didn’t take or get, Mr. Washington said. “I have a purpose, you know, and mine is no greater than anyone else’s. We all have a purpose in life. We’re all given different abilities,” he said.  

Some can act, some are long suffering, some patient, and some loving and kind, but sharing whatever gift, that’s what’s important, not just holding on to it, he said.

“Ultimately, it’s what do you do with what you have. Who did you lift up? Who did you make better? Not how much do you have or what do you drive. I don’t care how rich you are, it ain’t going to get you one more day in heaven,” Mr. Washington said, as the audience cheered and applauded.

When sharing how dancer and actor Gregory Hines, rather than actor Wesley Snipes, was initially tapped to be the saxophone player in Spike Lee’s “Mo Better Blues,” he pulled out his wallet.   Took out a small slip of paper and gave it to his friend and interviewer to read. The room went into dead silence as Mr. Franklin proceeded to read a prayer Mr. Washington said he’d kept in his wallet since Mr. Hines’ funeral.

Those moments and others, like many with his mother, help him do what he does and not feel like he’s out there alone, said Mr. Washington. When he was feeling full of himself one day and began to ask his mother did she ever think he’d be where he was at that time, she stopped him in his tracks. Don’t even finish the sentence, said his mother. “Shut up. Do you know how many people have been praying for you, boy?” Mr. Washington recounted his mother saying.

He gushed in acknowledging Black women have straightforwardly told him they do not like him kissing White women in movies. He didn’t duck the truth or mince his words when he answered questions about advice for young actors, thoughts on President Barack Obama and politics, his responsibility as a prominent actor, and the fact that he’ll always prefer stage over film because he feeds off of audience interaction.

“You do what you have to do so you can do what you love to do,” he said. He’s looking forward to his current movie project, a Western with filmmaker Antoine Fuqua.

Some of the most revealing moments came when Mr. Franklin asked Mr. Washington about his process for making certain movies and getting into character.

Mr. Franklin delved into Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” and how actor Ben Affleck said one of the greatest performances he’s ever seen was when Mr. Washington, playing Malcolm X, first meets the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and can’t look him in the eye.

“There’s a brother, God rest his soul, Brother Wayne and Brother Anthony who were sort of my mentors, teachers, they’re both captains in the F.O.I. and the Nation of Islam,” Mr. Washington said.   He said they set up a Fruit of Islam and a Nation of Islam camp where he learned how to do everything, sell The Final Call newspaper, how to go out on the corners, everything.

He forgot which one he asked, but he wanted to know how he felt when he first met the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. “He said, ‘I just didn’t want to be taller than him … so I took that idea to the scene. I just didn’t want to be taller than him, and I got that from him. You never know where you get the inspiration or the idea from and I’m not foolish enough to think I’ve got everything figured out,” Mr. Washington said.

When Mr. Franklin said he felt Mr. Washington was snubbed for an Oscar for his role as Malcolm X, the actor replied, “Man gives the award. God gives the reward.”

In “Training Day,” which chronicled a day in the life of a crooked cop, he demanded that “Det. Alonzo Harris’” life end the horrific way it did in order for him to justify living the way he did. Mr. Washington said when he got the script he immediately wrote on it, “The wages of sin is death.”