Washington's newest film sends a sour message about the U.S. legal system.
Denzel Washington is one of a kind, but not in the ways you might think.
Sure, he’s arguably Hollywood’s finest living movie star. His combination of talent, good looks and undeniable screen presence makes him a triple threat.
There’s something else about Washington that stands out. He’d rather talk about his craft than the latest political headlines. The actor has stayed mostly above the fray in recent years when it comes to politics. Reporters often try to tug a click bait confession from him.
They rarely succeed.
He is passionate about the Boys & Girls Club, though, and for noble reasons. He’s been the group’s National Spokesman for some time. The future Oscar winner first joined Boys & Girls Club at the tender age of six. It clearly had a positive impact on him.
Here’s the group’s mission:
Clubs provide a safe place, caring adult mentors, fun and friendship, and high-impact youth development programs on a daily basis during critical non-school hours. Club programs promote academic success, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles.
Washington knows what it means to have a family-type structure on your side. For some kids, it means a life-changing bond.
That commitment ties directly to a recent interview he gave to reporters at the New York City premiere of his new film, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” The actor plays the title role, a social justice lawyer torn between helping the less fortunate and keeping his personal finances afloat.
The film spends a good deal of time showcasing a crooked legal system, one stacked against the “have nots” in our society. So did making the movie sour him on our legal process, the reporters asked.
It’s a legitimate question.
Washington’s character in the film glibly refers to the U.S. as a “gang” at one point. The film’s overall tone suggests people of color are treated unfairly, even systematically targeted, by the system. The setting is modern day America. Given the fears minority characters harbor in “Roman J. Esq.” makes it seem like the story takes place much earlier.
Think 1967, not 2017.
So how did Washington answer the aforementioned question?
“It starts at the home … It starts with how you raise your children. If a young man doesn’t have a father figure, he’ll go find a father figure.
“So you know I can’t blame the system,” he continued. “It’s unfortunate that we make such easy work for them.”
Washington’s answer flies in the face of the film’s message. And this isn’t simply another legal thriller. “Roman J. Israel Esq.” takes great pains to showcase an unjust legal system. Some might describe it as entrenched racism, straight up.
So why did Washington make the movie in the first place?
At 62, the actor still commands considerable power in Hollywood. He doesn’t make as many films as his peers, so he must put a great deal of thought into every project.
Why this one? Is this the message he wants to send to his legion of fans?
The film showcases several young black men in serious legal trouble. One is accused of murder. Another faces an extended prison sentence for taking part in a heist. We never see the characters’ families or the lack of father figures in them. Wouldn’t that help balance the narrative and, more specifically, underscore Washington’s message about the family unit?
It’s not like he was helpless behind the scenes. When you’re Denzel Washington chances are the writers and directors will listen to your suggestions.
That either didn’t happen with “Roman J. Israel Esq.” or Washington didn’t try. Either way, he’s sending a very different message via the film than the one that’s closer to his heart.