Ju­lia Roberts, Spike Lee toast Denzel Wash­ing­ton at event

The Prince George Citizen - - A&E - Lind­sey BAHR

LOS AN­GE­LES — Denzel Wash­ing­ton was the man of the hour Thurs­day night with ev­ery­one from Ju­lia Roberts to Spike Lee turn­ing out to cel­e­brate him as this year’s re­cip­i­ent of the AFI Life Achieve­ment Award. But when he fi­nally took the stage to ac­cept the honour he did some­thing un­ex­pected: at his own award cer­e­mony, Wash­ing­ton turned the spot­light away from him­self and gave his wife of 40 years, Pauletta Wash­ing­ton, her own stand­ing ova­tion.

The crowd of multi­gen­er­a­tional Hol­ly­wood A-lis­ters, from Michael B. Jor­dan and Ma­her­shala Ali to Cicely Tyson and Mor­gan Free­man, read­ily obliged.

“I would not be alive with­out Pauletta Wash­ing­ton,” Wash­ing­ton said. “I wouldn’t sur­vive.”

It’s a dif­fi­cult task to have a mo­ment stand out in an evening that in­cluded a sur­prise Bey­once ap­pear­ance (there briefly to present an honour to di­rec­tor Melina Mat­soukas) and an earth shat­ter­ing ren­di­tion of Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come by Jen­nifer Hud­son that brought Wash­ing­ton to his feet, but he man­aged to do it.

As Roberts, Tyson and others at­tested through­out the evening, two-time Academy award-win­ner Denzel Wash­ing­ton is a fam­ily man first. Seated along­side Pauletta Wash­ing­ton, his son Mal­colm Wash­ing­ton, Lee, Tyson and di­rec­tors Carl Franklin and Ed Zwick, the 64-year-old was for two hours taken on an emo­tional tour through his sto­ried ca­reer in Hol­ly­wood – from ea­ger new­comer to movie star to ac­claimed di­rec­tor – by those who were by his side.

“We’re all here be­cause we love Denzel,” said Lee, who has di­rected Wash­ing­ton in four movies (Mo’ Bet­ter Blues, He Got Game, Mal­colm X and In­side Man).

“Denzel rep­re­sents our black man­hood.”

Lee, the fi­nal speaker of the evening, likened Wash­ing­ton to other G.O.A.Ts (great­est of all time) like Michael Jor­dan, Ella Fitzger­ald and Miles Davis.

“That’s the rar­efied air that Denzel Wash­ing­ton lives and breathes in,” Lee said.

Lee also said that, al­though he might be bi­ased, “Mal­colm X is the great­est per­for­mance ever com­mit­ted to cel­lu­loid.”

And others were just as ef­fu­sive. Roberts re­called that work­ing with him on The Pel­i­can Brief was like “work­ing with the Bea­tles.”

He is, as Jamie Foxx put it, “some­one who is just bet­ter than ev­ery­body else... when it comes to act­ing!”

“Even Leonardo DiCaprio is like, ‘I am re­ally fright­ened of Denzel,”’ Foxx added.

The Amer­i­can Film In­sti­tute brought out a host of the next gen­er­a­tion’s bright­est tal­ents to talk about Wash­ing­ton’s im­pact on them, too.

“Mr. Wash­ing­ton’s ar­rival was a seis­mic mo­ment for my gen­er­a­tion. You paved the way,” Ali said.

“Your in­flu­ence, your reach tran­scends race with­out ever deny­ing it.”

Michael B. Jor­dan said he was in­spired by the story that while film­ing Glory, Wash­ing­ton kept wearing his fake scars in a scene where he had his shirt on.

Jor­dan em­ployed the same tech­nique for his Black Pan­ther char­ac­ter.

Chad­wick Bose­man even went so far as to say, “There is no Black Pan­ther with­out Denzel Wash­ing­ton.”

Issa Rae brought Wash­ing­ton to tears of laugh­ter as she re­counted the very adult noises she re­mem­bers her mom and aunt mak­ing while watch­ing his movies when she was a lit­tle girl. She came to un­der­stand it, she said, when she watched Devil in A Blue Dress when she was a lit­tle older.

Wash­ing­ton stayed alert and amused through­out the evening, laugh­ing heartily when Jodie Fos­ter said that they were all there to, “kiss your black a--,” and yelling “Let it out, Mor­gan!” when Free­man took a long pause af­ter an­nounc­ing with an ex­ple­tive how jeal­ous he was.

He and Lee were as play­ful as school­boys dur­ing the “hood­winked and bam­boo­zled” speech from Mal­colm X, recit­ing the lines along with the reel, and he ac­cepted a long line of well-wish­ers dur­ing the din­ner break.

And when it fi­nally came time for him to speak, in ad­di­tion to thank­ing his wife for “40 years of sac­ri­fice and 40 years of for­give­ness,” Wash­ing­ton used his mo­ment on stage to talk about God and those who have helped him along the way.

“If noth­ing else I’m liv­ing proof of the power of God,” Wash­ing­ton said.

“I like act­ing. I like mak­ing movies... But my love for God is stronger than any­thing else.”

The 47th AFI Life Achieve­ment Award Gala, put on with the sup­port of Audi, also rec­og­nized Mat­soukas with the Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal, pro­vid­ing ev­ery­one with an early thrill when Bey­once came out to speak about her friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor, who di­rected her For­ma­tion video among others.

“She is hold­ing up a mir­ror for peo­ple who look like you and me to see our­selves, say­ing, ‘You are beau­ti­ful and your sto­ries mat­ter,”’ Bey­once said.

“She stays au­then­tic to her roots and fem­i­nin­ity in an in­dus­try dom­i­nated by men.”

Mat­soukas said that with­out her, “I’m not the same voice and I’m not the same cre­ator.”

The cer­e­mony will be broad­cast on TNT at 10 p.m. on June 20.

AP PHOTO BY CHRIS PIZZELLO

Ac­tress Ju­lia Roberts ad­dresses the au­di­ence dur­ing the 47th AFI Life Achieve­ment award cer­e­mony hon­our­ing ac­tor Denzel Wash­ing­ton at the Dolby The­atre on Thurs­day in Los An­ge­les.

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