Denzel Washington Was Honored At The 47th AFI Life Achievement Awards

If there is a more grounded, more graceful, more humble A-lister than Denzel Washington, they have yet to make themselves known. This year’s AFI Life Achievement Award honoured Denzel Washingon and, between his poignant speech and his incredible introduction from Julia Roberts, it was an event to remember.

Firstly, Roberts read from a letter of recommendation from Washington’s college professor. The rhetoric, the passion, and the support all show the huge confidence Washington inspired from an early age. The professor, decades ago, predicted that he would be “one of the outstanding actors of the latter part of the 20th Century”. And, of course, he was — and still is inspiring well into the 21st century.

The award represents the highest achievement a person can reach in film — it is a profound honour and one that Washington is more than worthy of. Although his career is well known, this glimpse into his past is so telling. Even at 22, he had a timeless talent, a charisma, and dedication to his art that left his professor calling him the greatest actor he had ever known.

You can see the full introduction from Roberts here:

An Inspiring Deference

And, as if manifesting every word of praise from the letter of recommendation, Washington gave a beautiful, poetic, and humble speech. Gushing about his 95-year-old mother, his egoless dedication to his wife of 40 years, his description of his gentle father who taught by example — his love and deference to those around him is so clear.

Even in the middle of a speech for an awarding honouring him, he plays a video of his father-in-law, spreading a message of empathy and compassion. His focus is always outward, on humanity, rather than on his awards or achievements.

You can see the whole speech here:

A man who doesn’t blame — who self-interrogates, who practices what he preaches, and turns to the world around him — Denzel Washington is truly one of a kind. Although the enormity of the AFI Lifetime Achievement award can be a struggle to live up to, for Washington it’s almost a foregone conclusion.

To take your moment in the spotlight and use that time to shine the light on other people — and bigger messages — is a truly gracious move. His commitment to empathy and compassion, to love in all of its forms, is something we can all learn from — and strive for.