Learn About the Impact of Denzel Washington on Pop Culture

Denzel Washington is one of the most powerful African American actors in Hollywood. He has been nominated for and won numerous awards over his career, including two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, one Screen Actors Guild Award, and one Tony Award.

Denzel Washington’s influence on pop culture cannot be underestimated. His works have helped shape how African Americans are viewed by Americans of all races and ethnicities. He has done this through his roles as well as through his philanthropic efforts.

A Short Biography of Denzel Washington

Born in Mount Vernon, New York, on December 28, 1954, Denzel Hayes Washington Jr. is one of his generation’s most celebrated African American actors. His mother, Lennis “Lynne” (née Faulkner), was a beauty parlor owner and operator born in Georgia and partly raised in Harlem. His father, Denzel Hayes Washington Sr., a native of Birmingham, Alabama, was a Pentecostal minister.

His parents divorced when he was very young; his mother later married another man from whom she would also divorce. He has two siblings, paternal half-brother Wes and maternal half-sister Felecia. He attended Pennington-Grimes Elementary School in Mount Vernon until 1968.

At the age of seven, Washington made his first public appearance at a talent show at the Boys & Girls Club. The club gave him respite from his unstable home life. 

Initially, Washington’s grades at Fordham University were poor. However, he returned to the university with a new interest in acting and graduated with a B.A. in Drama and Journalism in 1977. Washington earned a scholarship to the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where he honed his acting skills in the ensemble that performed Shakespeare in parks.

Movies and TV

Denzel Washington’s first major role was in the 1985 movie “Carbon Copy,” which was also his first leading role. The movie was not well received, but Washington won several awards for his performance, including Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture at the NAACP Image Awards.

In 1986, Denzel Washington starred in “Cry Freedom” with Kevin Kline, directed and produced by Richard Attenborough. The movie is based on the story of South African activist Steve Biko who died in police custody after being detained for anti-apartheid activities. Due to his amazing performance in the film, Denzel Washington got nominated for several awards, including Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture, and Best Supporting Actor. 

Denzel Washington starred as Dr. Phillip Chandler in the hit medical drama “St. Elsewhere” from 1982-1988. The show ran for six seasons before it ended due to low ratings and a lack of interest from viewers. It was nominated for several Emmys over its run, including three nominations for Outstanding Drama Series, which it never won despite being nominated.

The Impact of Denzel Washington’s Movies on Pop Culture

1. Glory (1989)

Washington’s first major role was in 1989’s Glory, which is based on the true story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all-African-American regiment led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick). Washington played Private Silas Trip, who becomes disillusioned with the war upon seeing his fellow soldiers killed. The film garnered Denzel a 62nd Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Supporting Role in 1990, as well as the 47th Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture. He won both of them. 

2. Ricochet (1991)

After arresting psychotic hit man Earl Talbot Blake (John Lithgow) and tracking down his accomplice, rookie Los Angeles police officer Nick Styles (Denzel Washington) is heralded as a hero by his fellow policemen.

Years later, Styles’ life is still unfolding: He married his long-time girlfriend and started a family; he also rose to the position of an assistant district attorney. Blake, however, is determined to take revenge for the injustices that have been done to him. He escapes from prison and plans to exact brutal and well-calculated revenge on those who wronged him.

3. Malcolm X (1992)

Malcolm X was Denzel Washington’s first film with Spike Lee, and it became one of his most popular films. The movie tells the story of Malcolm X as he moves from being an angry street hustler to becoming one of the nation’s most well-known civil rights activists. The movie was nominated for two Academy Awards and was considered groundbreaking because it showed an African American man who wasn’t afraid to speak out against racism and injustice within his own community.

The movie grossed $73 million domestically at the box office against a budget of $35 million. It also received critical acclaim from critics and audiences alike.

4. Philadelphia (1993)

The movie follows Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks), who is diagnosed with AIDS. When he is fired from his job as an attorney for his condition, he takes his case to court. Denzel Washington plays Joe Miller, a homophobic lawyer who represents the company that fired Beckett from his job. While both men are fighting for justice, they also find themselves fighting against each other in court.

5. The Hurricane (1999)

Denzel starred as Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter in 1999’s film The Hurricane, another true story about a boxer who was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent nearly two decades in prison before being released after evidence emerged that proved his innocence. Denzel received another Oscar nomination for his work in this film in 2000 but didn’t win.

6. Training Day (2001)

This police drama stars Denzel Washington as Detective Alonzo Harris and Ethan Hawke as Jake Hoyt. The movie is all about a veteran officer (Alonzo Harris) who escorts a rookie officer (Jake Hoyt) on his first day in the office with one of LAPD’s toughest inner-city narcotics units. The movie Training Day presents a harrowing view of urban crime fighting, challenging the audience to decide where heroism ends, and villainy begins.

7. The Book of Eli (2010)

The Book of Eli was Denzel Washington’s second collaboration with director Albert and writer Gary Whitta. The movie also featured Mila Kunis and Ray Stevenson.

The Book of Eli is set in a post-apocalyptic world where nuclear war has ravaged society. Denzel plays Eli, a nomad traveling across the country with an important book he must deliver to someone in Los Angeles. Mila Kunis plays Solara, a young woman who joins him on his journey.

The film received mixed reviews from critics but performed well at the box office, grossing about $157.1 million during its theatrical run against a budget of $80 million.

8. Flight (2012)

In this movie, Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, an airline pilot struggling with addiction after his plane crashes into the ground while trying to land at an airport in bad weather conditions. This movie received positive reviews from critics and was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor for Denzel Washington’s performance in it.

9. The Equalizer (2014)

Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, an ex-CIA operative who decides to take matters into his own hands when he discovers that he can no longer sit back and watch the world go to hell around him. The Equalizer was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who also directed Training Day (2001) and Tears of the Sun (2003), both starring Denzel Washington.

10. Fences (2016)

Denzel Washington won a Tony Award for this movie as Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play about an African-American family living in 1950s Pittsburgh. The film was based on the play by August Wilson, who also wrote the screenplay. It tells the story of Troy Maxson (Washington), who is forced to face the consequences of his decisions when he is unable to provide for his family.

Denzel Washington Oscar wins

Denzel has been to the Academy Awards many times before, long before he was nominated for his role in Cry Freedom. He first visited the Academy Awards in 1988 and has been nominated for nine Oscars throughout his long career.

His first Oscar would not come until his following nomination, but his performance as Private Silas Trip in Glory won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

After his performance in Glory, Denzel Washington continued to work on other projects, working his way up to the Award-winning Academy performance he gave in 1993’s Malcolm X. But it was not until 2002 when he won the Best Actor award at the 74th Academy Awards that he saw his career truly take off.

That being said, Washington has received three nominations since then, but he has no other wins to his credit.


Denzel Washington is one of the premier actors of our generation, having elevated the craft of acting to the highest standards and inspired countless other artists and actors. His impact on popular culture continues to be felt in the present day. The actor and producer has amassed an enormous number of roles, winning several awards in the process, and we can’t help but smile whenever we see him on screen.