A Denzel Washington Filmography of Character, Death, and Mercy

In late May 2020, just days before Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd, a video clip of Denzel Washington intervening between a distressed homeless man and some LAPD officers in West Hollywood began circulating online. It is clear that the cops and the man all recognize and trust Washington as an ameliorating force. At one point, Washington stands with his hand on the distressed man’s shoulder. Is he calming the man, steadying him, offering a benediction? With COVID-19 spreading fiercely, why does sixty-five-year-old Washington] risk mediating, risk comforting someone else?
This scene reads like a concentrated version of Washington’s four-decade screen career, especially those films in which his characters die, often sacrificing themselves so others can remain safe or gain liberation. Some die because they’re nefarious or unscrupulous; they make corruption manifest. This critique is both sincere and hyperbolic: Washington’s characters—the monsters, the cynics, the mentors, the angels, the complex Black founding fathers—are dying to show us what mercy might look like.
—Walton Muyumba

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