In a 2012 Times Talk interview that we’re just catching, Washington claims he turned down the chance to act in a film despite providing him a hefty salary. Taking advice from a Hollywood icon, Denzel says Sidney Portier warned it would change his brand as an actor. According to Upworthy, Washington stated to the interviewer, the role and synopsis would only “perpetuate racism in the name of comedy.”
I got a part in a movie in 1986. I call it the “N****r They Couldn’t Kill.” [The character] He raped a white woman; they tried to electrocute him but it didn’t work and he became a cult hero. Then they tried to hang him. There were some Jewish people in the audition room who said “it is funny.” And I said to them “yeah, it’s like you bring some Jewish people into a room and they think it is a shower but it is gas. And they said “right!” And I said “Right! That ain’t funny!” So to me it was not funny to put a rope around my MFing neck and I made a point. I called Sidney (Portier) and told him “man they are offering me $600,000 to play the “N****r They Couldn’t Kill.” And he told me, “I’m not going to tell you what to do. But I will tell you this, the first, two, three or four films you do in this business will dictate how you are perceived.
That was sage advice! And they’re wise words for everyone. When you’re just starting out, you’re eager to get your foot in the door and you think you ought to say yes to anything that’s thrown your way. But you should never leave your better judgment at the door. If something doesn’t feel right, or you find it outright offensive to you or to others, it’s probably best to wait until you find something more in line with your brand of work.
Check out Denzel’s interview, below. We wish other black performers would take heed to the same advice, too.
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