To say that Denzel Washington is one of the industry’s greatest actors would almost be superfluous; Denzel has been one of the select few movie stars who kicked off their career in the 1980s and has never dipped in relevance to this day, as he continues to do outstanding work. He’s also a cultural icon and inspirational figure within the history of Black representation on screen, and his calm, intelligent viewpoint is one that the industry often turns to in times of crisis. While he has a directorial career and stacked resumé on stage, Denzel has seemingly done it all when it comes to movies. He’s picked up two Academy Awards for Glory and Training Day, developed fantastic partnerships with directors like Tony Scott and Spike Lee, tackled almost every genre possible, and at 68, he’ll be taking out bad guys once more in The Equalizer 3. That being said, Denzel doesn’t leave a lot of room for romance in his films, and that’s a shame, considering his overwhelming charisma.
Unsurprisingly, Washington took his first few roles very seriously, as he often played inspirational, no-nonsense figures of heroism that spotlighted the bravery of black characters. His performances in films like Cry Freedom, Courage Under Fire, A Soldier’s Story, and For Queen And Country are dramatically moving, but Washington wasn’t given the chance to show just how charismatic he could be. It’s understandable that Washington wanted to command authority, and that doing a more wacky romantic comedy could be seen as a risky endeavor, as Hollywood was hesitant to develop a respectful depiction of a Black romantic hero. However, inclusivity has certainly taken significant steps forward throughout Denzel’s career, many of which he’s been responsible for. Denzel’s onscreen interactions with his romantic partners are often the best part of his films, and the rare romances he’s starred in have teased the potential he still has. Since his career is just as active now as it was 40 years ago, it’s time that Denzel makes the swoony love story that we all desperately want to see.
Denzel Is A Heartthrob When He Gets The Chance
There’s no denying Denzel’s movie star charisma, regardless of what era he’s in. Kenneth Branagh’s hyper swoony adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing saw Branagh himself, Denzel, and the rest of the cast playing deeply exaggerated versions of some of Shakespeare’s most sexually-driven characters. After an incredible opening moment where the men come riding heroically home from battle, it’s obvious why Denzel’s version of Don Pedro of Aragon is so popular among the female villagers in his hometown. He’s confident, accomplished, and all of his achievements in battle are nothing compared to his killer smile. Even if Don Pedro ends up having too many political responsibilities to settle down, he would most certainly be the most valued bachelor in the area if he chose to put himself out there.
While romance isn’t really a factor in a majority of Denzel’s thriller and mystery films, the role that would have given him an opportunity to do so was sadly not one he was able to return to. Carl Franklin’s incredibly underrated neo-noir Devil In A Blue Dress cast Denzel as Easy Rawlings, an untraditional detective outside the law that allows him to play into the archetype that Humphrey Bogart crystallized. Like Bogart’s various sleuths, Easy often gets into trouble with the legal department and local police, giving him an idiosyncratic quality that Denzel has a lot of fun with. The film was based on the first installment of the popular novel series by Walter Moseley, and many of Easy’s subsequent adventures saw him risking everything on a case because of his attraction to a woman. It would have been exciting to see a franchise develop around the character, but sadly Devil In A Blue Dress didn’t spawn any sequels despite the excellent reviews it received in what feels like the industry purposefully rejecting a compelling Black lead.
Denzel Is Seriously Hot
The industry’s failings when it came to matters of race can be blamed for the lack of romantic roles Denzel ever got when he was at the height of his movie star era, but the few we got were certainly worthwhile. 1991’s Mississippi Masala is one of the rare straight-up romances of Denzel’s career, and tackles the challenging subject of interracial relationship between African Americans and Indian Americans. The film’s historical relevance and weighty subtext still puts it in the “prestige” category that Denzel always returns to, but it goes to show what he looks like in the midst of a nuanced relationship. It’s electrifying to see how Denzel and his co-star Sarita Choudhury can grow, adapt, and meet each other’s needs and accept their differences as they work through the cultural barriers in between them.
Denzel obviously has an affinity for biopics, and many of the real men he’s portrayed had illustrious romantic lives; the same respect and care that Denzel has for the material can be seen in his generous treatment of his female co-stars. The scenes between Denzel and Angela Bassett are among the most powerful in Malcolm X, as within a pool of untrustworthy allies, Malcolm is able to confide in and open up to his wife Betty Shabazz. One of the reasons Malcolm X is one of the greatest films of all-time is because Lee was able to deliver on spectacle, and the extended opening where Malcolm and Betty meet, attend dance parties and social events, and fall in love are particularly entertaining. A stable marriage is also integral to American Gangster and Philadelphia, but Denzel’s characters are so consumed by their work that their scenes of intimacy are few and far between.
Fences is perhaps the most interesting example of Denzel’s romances, as it’s a role he played on stage and directed himself. Even though he’s playing a troubled, unfaithful patriarch of a family, Denzel shows a more nuanced depiction of what Black family life and marriage looks like than would’ve been available earlier in his career. He’s 68 now and can’t be doing The Equalizer sequels forever, but age won’t be a detriment to his talent. Whether it’s a film he’s starring in or directing, Denzel will hopefully take a chance on the great romantic film that he never made.