With the American Theater Wing’s Tony Awards Show scheduled for broadcast on this Sunday night (June 8th – 8:00 PM on CBS), I happened upon the following on the radio just a few days ago.
Ruth: Walter, leave me alone. Eat your eggs. They’re going to get cold.
Walter Lee: Man say, I got me a dream. Woman say, eat your egg. Man say, I got to take hold of this here world baby. Woman say, eat your eggs and go to work. Man say, I got to change my life. I’m choking to death. Woman say, your eggs is getting cold.
Ruth: Walter, that ain’t none of our money.
Walter Lee: This morning I’m in the mirror, in the bathroom, I’m thinking – I’m 40 years old, I’ve been married 11 years and I’ve got a boy who sleeps on the living room couch. And all I got to give him is nothing, nothing but stories about how rich white people live.
Ruth: Eat your eggs, Walter.
Walter Lee: Damn my eggs. Damn all the eggs there ever was.
It is a scene from the American classic, A Raisin in the Sun which was written by Lorraine Hansbury and reached Broadway in 1959.
It was made into a film in 1961 and starred Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee.
Currently, Raisin has been revived this spring on Broadway. This revival stars Denzel Washington as Walter Lee Younger, LaTanya Richardson Jackson as the family matriarch Lena, Anika Noni Rose as Walter’s sister Beneatha, and Sophie Okonedo as Walter’s wife Ruth.
I listened to that scene on the NPR Fresh Air radio show a few days ago. You can listen to it yourself at the following link:
When the page opens, click where it says Listen to the Story. The scene’s intro actually comes on at the 3 minute 30 seconds mark.
This revival will run through June 15th, and has been nominated for some Tony Awards. Denzel Washington has not been nominated for his role as Walter, but he already had won a Tony for Best Actor for his role in the August Wilson play Fences in the revival in April 2010.
All of which leads me to write this piece. Denzel Washington has been a movie star for a long time. But he didn’t start in movies. He started in Theater. Washington’s first film role was that of an alley mugger in the film Death Wish (1974). Washington’s role was uncredited. He was just 20 years old in 1974 and was unknown at the time.
From there, Washington would eventually land bigger and better roles. In this post, I’m not going to discuss Washington as Walter Lee Younger in Raisin in the Sun. Instead I’m going to take a brief look at five of Washington’s movie roles. These may not be his best performances, or his award winning performances. For this post, the criteria is simple. If I knew that any of these movies would be on TV tomorrow, would I make it my business to watch these films again?
I’d also like to ask my readers to add some of their favorite Denzel Washington films in the comment section below.
I’ll start with the 1987 film Cry Freedom, which was directed by Richard Attenborough. While the film was exemplary, it wasn’t just about Steven Biko, the black activist in the late 1970’s during the apartheid era in South Africa. Have a look at this clip from Movieclips.
Kevin Kline played the role of newspaper man Donald Woods, and was the actual lead. But Washington as Biko was unforgettable.
In 1992 Washington starred as Malcolm X in the Spike Lee directed film called Malcolm X. Denzel received an Academy Award nomination in the Best Actor Category. The Oscar did go to Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. But Washington was electrifying in the role.
In 1993, Washington was paired with Julia Roberts in the Alan J. Pakula film The Pelican Brief which was adapted from the Robert Grisham novel of the same name. Washington played newspaper reporter Gray Grantham. When Supreme Court Justices began to turn up dead, an enterprising law student named Darby Shaw wrote a law brief which lead to even more assassinations. Washington, as Grantham, though initially somewhat skeptical, ultimately believed in her, and then when attempts were made on Shaw’s life, they paired up and went into hiding. As they chased down the truth, they were in fact targeted and hunted. Do you recall this exchange:
Gray Grantham: How’d you find me?
Darby Shaw: I called the paper and asked for your address.
Gray Grantham: And?
Darby Shaw: I told them I was your sister Mary in from out of town and couldn’t find you.
Gray Grantham: [looks surprised] How’d you know I had a sister Mary?
Darby Shaw: You’re not the only one who does research.
Also from 1993 was the film, Philadelphia, directed by Jonathan Demme, which starred Tom Hanks as a lawyer who contracted AIDS, and was fired from his job because of his condition. He went on to hire a homophobic lawyer named Joe Miller, played by Washington, who was the only willing advocate for this wrongful dismissal suit.
Joe Miller: We’re standing here in Philadelphia, the, uh, city of brotherly love, the birthplace of freedom, where the, uh, founding fathers authored the Declaration of Independence, and I don’t recall that glorious document saying anything about all straight men are created equal. I believe it says all men are created equal.
While Tom Hanks got most of the accolades for this film, there was no denying that Washington as Miller was also superb.
My last Denzel Washington film that I would sit down and watch today, tomorrow, or in the next 10 minutes is the 1995 naval thriller, Crimson Tide, directed by Tony Scott. Watch this scene with Washington as Lt. Commander Ron Hunter as the XO who goes toe to toe with submarine Captain Frank Ramsey played by Gene Hackman.
In case you were wondering – XO is the acronym for Executive Officer, and COB is the acronym for Chief of the Boat. That’s George Dzundza as the COB who backs Washington’s Hunter.
Now, as I said above, all of the above may not be Washington’s best roles, or films that he has won Oscars for his performances, or even films that won critical acclaim. But make them available to me, and I’m there.
Which of Denzel Washington’s roles grab your fancy?