Denzel Washington’s ode to August Wilson

Last year was an incredible year in black film and television. Theatrical jewels such as “Fences,” “Hidden Figures, “Loving” and “Moonlight” proved to be instant classics in the heart-warming and critically-acclaimed department.

 The 48th Annual NAACP Image Awards, which took place at the Pasadena Civic Center in Pasadena, California, gave each of the four films a nod with multiple nominations and have recognized the actors and actresses in these major motion pictures.

 Between “Fences,” “Hidden Figures,” “Loving” and “Moonlight,” actors Denzel Washington, Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson have been sweeping the awards. Davis captured the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for her work opposite Washington in “Fences.”

Denzel Washington backstage at the 48th Annual NAACP Image Awards. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

Henson struck solo gold twice at the NAACP Image Awards, claiming victory in the Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture (Hidden Figures) and Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series (Empire) categories.

Washington was nominated for and took home the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture for his portrayal of a former Negro Leagues baseball star broken by regret and career impotency, thanks to baseball’s societal segregation playbook.

I was among the celebrities on the red carpet for this spectacular night and witnessed Washington win his Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture award. Making the moment more compelling was when Washington decided to come backstage and share his thoughts about “Fences,” a movie derived from a stage play written by the great August Wilson.

It was riveting. Washington’s speech was presented with humility, dignity and class to the horde of reporters covering the event. I was so fortunate to be able to interview Washington backstage where he answered various questions from the media. 

When he was asked what was it about Wilson’s voice that speaks to us today, Washington highlighted the fact that it was Wilson’s ability to connect with ordinary folks that made his work transcend boundaries.  

“August Wilson is one of the all-time greats; it’s a voice,” Washington said. “He (Wilson) speaks for the ordinary people. He writes about ordinary people’s warts and all. He’s of the great playwrights not just for this time, but for all time.” 

I then followed up with a question to Washington on whether he will continue to do more work on other projects created by Wilson.    

“Yes,” Washington said. “I will continue to produce all 10 of August Wilson’s plays.”

Washington expressed the reason for that is Wilson’s voice crosses generations and is a very important one to hear.    

“August Wilson’s brand…so much of it is in the material,” said Washington. “He understands the generational differences. My father was from that time. He wasn’t like Troy (Fences) but it was a different time. When people ask me what do I want them to get from the movie, I always say, ‘Depends on what they bring to it,’ because for some people you’re Troy, some people you’re the son, some women you’re Rose. And for some women, unfortunately, you might be the other woman, Alberta.”   

There’s something there for all of us,” Washington adds. “He (Wilson) speaks in a language we understand, we feel in our core our souls. As I said, it was an honor for me, a responsibility, and a duty to bring his stories to light.” 

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