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The Religious Affiliation of
great American actor
Denzel Washington was raised the son of a Pentecostal preacher, a preacher for the predominantly black denomination know as the Church of God in Christ. Denzel Washington is currently a member of a Church of God congregation in Los Angeles, to which he has generously given millions of dollars.
From: Douglas Brode, Denzel Washington: His Films and Career, Carol Publishing Group: Secaucus, NJ (1997), page xiii:
Denzel was born on December 28, 1954, the second of three children. He was named after his father, who embodied the American work ethic. All week long, Denzel senior rushed back and forth between two jobs, at the S. Klein department store and the water department, following his own true calling through additional work on Sundays as a Pentecostal preacher. In addition to the Washington family, there might be only two or three people listening to his sermons, but that didn't hold Denzel senior back from sharing his strong beliefs with whatever congregation he had. Denzel, his older sister Lorice, and younger brother David, didn't see their dad much other than at those sermons. Weekdays, he was gone when they got up; they were asleep before he arrived home.
Brode, pages xiv-xv:
The family lived in Mount Vernon, New York...
Perhaps surprisingly, the child [actor Denzel Washington when he was young] did not become a great movie fan. His morally conservative father only gave his blessings to religious epics like Ten Commandments (1956) or King of Kings (1961), along with selected Disney films. As a budding teenager, Denzel often sneaked out to catch the controversial fare then making the rounds, including the legendary black-exploitation flick Superfly (1972). Aside from such minor infractions, Denzel was a good kid, and the family's lifestlye remained relatively calm until the parents divorced when Denzel was fourteen.
Brode, page xvi:
What ensued thereafter is a subject about which Denzel remains guarded. "I guess it made me angry," he reflects. "I went through a place where I got into a lot of fights. Working it out." Family and religion had been the basis of Denzel's existence; now, with a firm sense of the former dissolving, he purposefully rejected the latter." I don't think there was a conscious effort to reject religion," he later admitted, "but I rejected it," though the mature Denzel adds: "I've come around since then!"
The breakup also made him vow to someday be in a solid marital situation; today he and singer Pauletta Pearson are the rare Hollywood couple who live quietly with their children. "My parents' divorce made me want to make my marriage work," he now admits. "I guess I felt a responsibility to marriage." A responsibility, perhaps, to his own children so they wouldn't experience the alienation that follows divorce...
Following the split, his father returned to his home town of Dillwyn, Virginia, continuing his religious work until his death at age eighty-one. Denzel's mother, a former gospel singer born in Georgia but raised in Harle, supported the family as a beautician.
Following graduation in 1972, Denzel attended Fordham University... pulling together enough money from several loans and augmenting that by running an after-school program, baby-sitting children of single working parents at a Greek Orthodox church in Upper Manhattan. His major was premed; once more his grades were less than spectacular. Denzel sensed that however noble the profession, medicine was not or him. The only class he really enjoyed the first year was an Introduction to Communications; he considered changing his major to either journalism or political scence.
Brode, page xxvii:
Pauletta [Denzel Washington's wife] has commented, "Denzel is a messenger. He chooses his roles very carefully." On the issue of race, Denzel's personal attitude appears to be that of an old-fashioned Martin Luther King Jr. integrationist, demanding acceptance as an equal into society at large... "I'm not Malcolm X," he insists, nor does he necessarily accept Malcolm's views. "But," he adds, "the same God that movied Malcolm can move me."
Brode, page xxxi:
It shouldn't be surprising, then, to learn that Denzel's greatest personal heroes among men ("God," he insists, "is my only real her!") are not legendary actors he admires but entrepreneurs. "I keep up with guys like Donald Trump," he once claimed.
Brode, page xxxiii:
For Christopher J. Farley of Time, the two sides of Denzel seem less a contradiction of opposites than a perfect yin-yang coming together of complements: "He is a black actor--proudly, fiercely so-who has succeeded in making that term merely descriptive, not professionally limiting." As to Denzel's personal life, there exists what screenwriters like to call a through line: Family and religion remain the essence. "The base that keeps me solid" is how he describes his family, and--like a good Shakespearean scholar--he senses that appearance is as important as reality. "I always try to have my family with me when I am out in public," he has claimed, not only because he loves their company but also as "one small attempt to show that black people can have families." Since he's a celebrity, the Washingtons are regularly photographed for newspapers and taped for TV; such images send a visual message to contradict negative stereotypes of the one-parent black family--a cliche, certainly, though too often a reality he once survived, apparently with some invisible scars.
Brode, page xxxiv:
When [Denzel Washington] took his family to visit Africa in the summer of 1995, he and Pauletta renewed their wedding vows in a ceremony conducted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. On that trip, the family also went on safari in Kenya.
The only newspaper Denzel religiously (no pun intended) reads every day is the Daily Word [a Christian newspaper published since 1924 by the Unity Church (also known as the Unity School of Christianity)]. As for stardom, he works hard at keeping a level head about the accolades, particularly those emphasizing sex appeal over talent: "People heap attention onto you, and most of it is hype. I struggle to resist it in order not to be affected by it." Denzel remains traditionalist in his values. When asked about recent attempts by politicians to censor the popular arts, his response at first sounds liberal--"You do have the right to your [artistic] freedom . . ."--only to change philosophical horses in midstream--"though I think you also have an obligation to a certain amount of taste."
Brode, page xxxv:
It should come as no great surprise that Denzel's latest project is Preacher's Wife, a remake of the 1940s fantsy, The Bishop's Wife, about an angel who provides positive direction in people's lives, with Denzel cast in the old Cary Grant role. The original--about retaining one's religious values while under pressure from a world that appears increasingly unresponsive--is not so different from another of that era's classics, Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). "I don't know if you can get away with that anymore," Denzel says sadly, recalling the beacon of light James Stewart once provided by playing a common man who perseveres the face of awesome obstacles and, thorugh sheer determination of his spirit, eventually wins. "It's hard to believe in the American Dream he was always fighting for."
Brode, pages xxxvi-xxxvii:
[Denzel Washington's] decision to appear in Preacher's Wife proves that he is at least willing to try. In his own life, Denzel always acknowledged that the odds were against him, then overcame and won what he wanted while maintaining what he calls "an ongoing conversation with God."
Brode, page 17:
...Ebony magazine, attempting to put a finger on the uniqueness of Denzel's appeal, insisted that it is derived from the remarkable way in which "he somehow manages to combine regular guyness with an aura of celebrity, mystery, exclusivity." According to the simple philosophy he learned from his mother, life comes down to four things: "the grace of God, the will of man, the hand you're dealt, the way you play it." Success or failure derive from a combination of destiny, free will, blind luck, and native intelligence. Ultimately, though, it's that divine decision coupled with personal integrity. "I am where I am by the grace of God," Denzel says, "but I haven't had to do anything [other than] just work hard to get where I am. I didn't get here from partying with the right people or doing anything other than working hard." God helps those who helps themselves.
Clearly blessed with his God's grace, Denzel should continue to live and act for decades.
Having just come off a star vehicle for Dustin Hoffman, Schwary was delighted to learn that 40 percent of the total budget for A Soldier's Story [featuring Denzel Washington in a major role] would be spent "below the line." Saving an incredible amount of money on director and actors (who all worked for scale) allowed him to spend eery possible penny on costumes, set design, extras, etc. One luxury Schwary was able to provide for Jewison was a full week rehearsal, on the actual sets, preceding the nine-week shooting schedule in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas--a rarity even on more expensive films.
From: Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston, Finding God in the Movies: 33 Films of Reel Faith, Baker Books: Grand Rapids, Michigan (2004), page 184:
Jerry Molen, the unit production manager who had assisted Schwary on Tootsie's exhaustive New York City shoot [and who would go on later to become one of the top-grossing Latter-day Saint movie producers in film history, producing many Steven Spielberg movies as well as LDS-oriented feature film such as The Other Side of Heaven], discovered Chaffe when he headd south, searching for a proper locale, hitting almost all of the bases in a nine-state, fourteen-military-base area.
Denzel Washington, a deeply committed Christian, wanted to play the part of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter even before the screenplay was in development. He got the part, and one year before production started he began training--physically, mentally, and emotionally. He lost from forty to sixty pounds... and became a pretty good fighter. He worked with retired professional fighter Jerry Claybon, and they sparred close to two hundred rounds. Though he tried to capture this physical aspect of Rubin Carter, he was equally committed to portaying Carter's emotional and spiritual journey. He wanted the viewer to see the search within himself that Carter undertook.
From: Barsotti and Johnston, pages 24-25:
We also have chosen for this book movies such as The Rookie, Antwone Fisher, and Patch Adams, movies in which the influence of a Christian director is significant.
Webpage created 2 August 2005. Last modified 1 December 2005.
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