Denzel Washington honoured for paving way for black actors in Hollywood

Denzel Washington accepting the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award in Los Angeles, California, on June 6, 2019.
Denzel Washington accepting the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award in Los Angeles, California, on June 6, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - There are superheroes on screen and a cinematic giant in real life.

Last week, actor Denzel Washington was honoured by Hollywood for a pioneering career spanning five decades and two Oscars that opened the door for a generation of black movie stars.

Director and frequent collaborator Spike Lee presented the 64-year-old with the American Film Institute (AFI) Life Achievement award - billed as "the highest honour for a career in film" - at a gala event at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Hollywood's small elite of A-list black leading men paid tribute to Washington's trailblazing career, with fellow Oscar winners Morgan Freeman, Jamie Foxx and Mahershala Ali taking to the stage.

Black Panther (2018) stars Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan did so too.

"You paved the way. You showed us the path. But what's truly monumental is that your influence, your reach, transcends race without ever denying it," said Ali.

"We are here because we stand on the shoulders of a giant."

Boseman said: "There is no Black Panther without Denzel Washington" - referring to Marvel's first film to focus on a black superhero.

Hollywood has been heavily criticised for its diversity problem, notably in the #OscarsSoWhite campaign surrounding the 2016 Academy Awards.

Washington is one of only four black stars to win a best actor Oscar.

He won a best supporting actor Oscar for American Civil War epic Glory (1989) and best actor for his bad-cop character in crime thriller Training Day (2001).