Denzel Washington professes personal faith in Christ and gives us very good reason to believe that he understands what he professes. His work with Zondervan on “The Bible Experience” is sterling and his family and lifestyle stand in stark contrast to the common Hollywood experience. He plainly seeks to live his faith in a personal way. Washington, who turns 53 on Friday, says he lives what are sometimes called, by the modern media, “old-fashioned values.”
In an interview with the Associated Press (AP) released today, in conjunction with the release of his newest movie, he says, "You have to do what you gotta do in this life in order to do what you wanna do, or in order to get somewhere. Whatever your obstacles are. Pick one: Race, obesity, peer pressure … drugs. Whatever it is.”
In commenting on his film, The Great Debaters (see review above), in which he directs and plays a leading role both, he says, "I injected a line (into the movie) which my kids have grown up on, which is: `We do what we gotta do, so that you can do what you want to do.’ . . . No you can’t go running the streets before you study. Or you have to prepare for your exam before you watch television. That’s how life is," says the father of four. (With wife Pauletta, he has 16-year old twins, a 19-year-old Ivy Leaguer daughter, and 23-year-old son John David, a Morehouse College graduate and aspiring pro football running back.)
Adds Washington, in the AP interview posted this evening: "A lot of times now in this fast-food society we have, kids are led to believe that you can just do what you want to do."
He learned solid values while growing up in Mount Vernon, just north of New York City—though with an old-school generational difference. "They probably said, `You’re doing what you gotta do, and then you gonna do what I say.’ Back then, there probably was no `and you do what you wanna do.’ I don’t remember the `do what you wanna do’ part," he added, laughing.
"If there’s a lesson," he went on to say in the interview, disdainfully making finger quotes and deepening his voice in mock pretentiousness, "for us adults, you know, it’s to keep reaching back, to keep helping (young people). "To say it’s a lesson on race is to suggest I know more about it than you and this is something you need. It’s not medicine. . . . Not here’s a comment on race in America in 1935."
Washington believes the advent of television killed off debate as a spectator sport; plus, now there are so many options: e.g., video games, the Internet, etc. Still, he notes, the spoken word is not dead. "Look at rap. Two guys get up and verbally spar."
One of the more profound observations he made in the interview with AP was in noting that the 21st century form of debate is called blogging. I think he may have hit on something very important in this comment. There is a lot of poor debate going on via the Internet, but there is some gold. As the good gets sorted our from the silly and worthless we who write and debate ideas need to use this medium with care and intentionality.
Last week, Denzel gave $1 million to Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, to re-establish and maintain the debate team for the next decade. "Nothing would give me greater joy that imagining in the next 10 years—not that they would win the national championship—that they’re a good team," he says. "It’s a good thing. I just think it’s a good thing."
I pray for Denzel Washington quite often. We need Christians like him in film who live and work with the clear values that he holds. He is a great actor, maybe the best in our day, and appears to also be an equally great person. The respect he has garnered seems to be well-earned.