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American Film Institute honors Denzel Washington

HOLLYWOOD — The American Film Institute presented the 47th Life Achievement Award to actor Denzel Washington June 6 at a gala tribute at the Dolby Theatre. 

Mahershala Ali, Chadwick Boseman, Jodie Foster, Antoine Fuqua, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Michael B. Jordan, Issa Rae, Julia Roberts and Cicely Tyson all paid tribute to Washington’s life and work and Spike Lee presented the award to Washington.

Additional guests included Ed Begley Jr., W. Kamau Bell, Joy Bryant, Joel Coen, Richard Donner, Ava DuVernay, Cary Elwes, Carl Franklin, Antoine Fuqua, David Alan Grier, Keegan-Michael Key, Martin Lawrence, Frances McDormand, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Paula Patton, Jay Pharoah, Chris Tucker, Edward Zwick, Taís Araújo and Paola Núñez.

“Denzel Washington is an American icon,” AFI Board of Trustees Chairman Howard Stringer said last year when announcing the honor. “As an actor, he stands tall as a heroic stoic embodiment of the best in all of us, and he does so with heart, humanity and one of the brightest smiles to ever light up the screen.

“Equally formidable as director as producer, he is a creative force to be reckoned with — and one of the most vital, relevant artists working today,” Stringer added.

Washington, 64, is a nine-time Oscar nominee, winning twice — for his supporting work in 1989’s “Glory” and for best actor for 2001’s “Training Day.” He was most recently nominated for best actor for “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” and for his lead acting and producing work on best-picture nominee “Fences.”

His other acting credits include films such as “Cry Freedom,” “The Hurricane,” “Malcolm X,” “Philadelphia” and “The Magnificent Seven.”

He directed the films “Fences,” “The Great Debaters” and “Antwone Fisher.”

The evening featured a musical performance from Jennifer Hudson, who sang a powerful rendition of Sam Cooke’s classic, 1964 civil-rights anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Presenters gave poignant remarks about Washington’s influence on their own careers. Boseman said, “There is no ‘Black Panther’ without Denzel Washington … because my whole cast, that generation, stands on your shoulders.”

Roberts, who collaborated with Washington on “The Pelican Brief,” said, “Working with you was like working with the Beatles. You are the greatest talent of any time.”

Rae, speaking about how Washington’s work informed her own, said, “He embodies and commands every role he takes on. His performances demand you look at every moment. And he dares you to look away.”

“Your gift is to unite us and inspire us, and I want to thank you for leading the way,” Jordan said.

Accepting the award, Washington closed the night by saying, “The least we can do is think about the young people, the future, and individually and collectively do the best we can to try and turn this thing around.”

The AFI Life Achievement Award special will air on TNT June 20 at 10:00 p.m., followed by an encore at 11:30. Sister network Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will also air the special in September, during a night of programming dedicated to Washington’s work. This marks the seventh year the Emmy-winning AFI special will air on TNT.

Staff and Wire Reports