FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, LOS ANGELES, CA, June 6, 2019 — The American Film Institute (AFI) presented the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award to Denzel Washington on Thursday, June 6, 2019, at a Gala Tribute in Los Angeles. Mahershala Ali, Chadwick Boseman, Jodie Foster, Antoine Fuqua, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Michael B. Jordan, Issa Rae, Julia Roberts and Cicely Tyson all paid tribute to Washington’s life and work at the Dolby Theatre in the heart of Hollywood. At the evening’s end, Spike Lee presented the award to Washington.
Additional guests included Ed Begley, Jr., W. Kamau Bell, Joy Bryant, Joel Coen, Richard Donner, Ava DuVernay, Cary Elwes, Carl Franklin, Antoine Fuqua, David Alan Grier, Keegan-Michael Key, Martin Lawrence, Frances McDormand, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Paula Patton, Jay Pharoah, Chris Tucker, Edward Zwick, Taís Araújo and Paola Núñez.
Surprise guest Beyoncé presented AFI’s Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal to her frequent collaborator, multitalented film, television and music video artist Melina Matsoukas (AFI Class of 2005). “She is fearless, no matter the challenges, and believes in breaking stereotypes in the industry,” said Beyoncé. “As a woman of color, conformity is not her thing. Her drive, vision, taste level and storytelling are boldly unapologetic.”
The evening featured a musical performance from Jennifer Hudson, who sang a powerful rendition of Sam Cooke’s classic, 1964 civil-rights anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Presenters gave poignant remarks about Washington’s influence on their own careers. Chadwick Boseman said, “There is no BLACK PANTHER without Denzel Washington… because my whole cast, that generation, stands on your shoulders.”
Julia Roberts, who collaborated with Washington on THE PELICAN BRIEF, said, “Working with you was like working with The Beatles. You are the greatest talent of any time.”
Issa Rae, speaking about how Washington’s work informed her own, said, “He embodies and commands every role he takes on. His performances demand you look at every moment. And he dares you to look away.”
“Your gift is to unite us and inspire us, and I want to thank you for leading the way,” said Michael B. Jordan.
Accepting the award, Washington closed the night by saying, “The least we can do is think about the young people, the future, and individually and collectively do the best we can to try and turn this thing around.”
At the event, AFI CEO and President Bob Gazzale announced the second recipient of the Audi Fellowship for Women, a full-tuition scholarship created by Audi in 2017 to support a promising female director entering the AFI Conservatory. Nicole Mejia will receive the Fellowship, beginning this August in the Conservatory’s prestigious Directing program. On June 10, the inaugural Audi Fellow, Natalie Camou, will graduate at the AFI Commencement. This Fellowship is part of Audi’s commitment to drive progress, and a landmark investment in the future of the storytelling community.
The AFI Life Achievement Award special will air on TNT on Thursday, June 20, at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT, followed by an encore at 11:30 p.m. ET/PT. Sister network Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will also air the special in September, during a night of programming dedicated to Washington’s work. This marks the seventh year the Emmy®-winning AFI special will air on TNT.
About Denzel Washington
Washington’s cinematic legacy includes powerhouse, Academy Award®-winning performances in GLORY (1989) and TRAINING DAY (2001), as well as celebrated roles in CRY FREEDOM (1987), MALCOLM X (1992), THE HURRICANE (1999), FLIGHT (2012) and ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. (2017), earning additional nominations for each. Washington has crafted compelling, unforgettable characters in recurring collaborations with master directors past and present, bringing stalwart grit and nuanced complexity to films essential to the American canon, such as Jonathan Demme’s PHILADELPHIA (1993), Spike Lee’s INSIDE MAN (2006) and Ridley Scott’s AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007) — and to blockbuster, crowd-pleasing fare such as Edward Zwick’s (AFI Class of 1975) CRIMSON TIDE (1995), Tony Scott’s MAN ON FIRE (2004) and Antoine Fuqua’s THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016). A creative force behind the camera as well, Washington has helmed critically acclaimed films, ANTWONE FISHER (2002) and THE GREAT DEBATERS (2007), in which he also stars. He won a 2010 Tony® for his performance in the play “Fences,” and directed, produced and starred in the 2016 film adaptation that earned him Best Actor and Best Picture Oscar® nominations.
About the AFI Life Achievement Award
The highest honor given for a career in film, the AFI Life Achievement Award was established by the AFI Board of Trustees in 1973. It is presented to a single honoree each year based on the following criteria as mandated through a resolution passed by the AFI Board of Trustees: “The recipient should be one whose talent has in a fundamental way advanced the film art; whose accomplishment has been acknowledged by scholars, critics, professional peers and the general public; and whose work has stood the test of time.” See the complete list of past honorees here.
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About Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is a two-time Peabody Award-winning network that presents great films, uncut and commercial-free, from the largest film libraries in the world highlighting the entire spectrum of film history. TCM features insights from Primetime host Ben Mankiewicz, along with hosts Alicia Malone, Dave Karger and Eddie Muller, plus interviews with a wide range of special guests and serves as the ultimate movie lover destination. Currently in its 25th year as a leading authority in classic film, TCM offers critically acclaimed series like The Essentials, along with annual programming events like 31 Days of Oscar® in February and Summer Under the Stars in August. TCM also directly connects with movie fans through events such as the annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, the TCM Big Screen Classics series in partnership with Fathom Events, as well as through the TCM Classic Film Tour in New York City and Los Angeles. In addition, TCM produces a wide range of media about classic film, including books and DVDs, and hosts a wealth of material online at tcm.com and through the Watch TCM mobile app.
About the American Film Institute
The American Film Institute was established by presidential proclamation in the White House Rose Garden and launched its national mandate on June 5, 1967 — to preserve the heritage of the motion picture, to honor the artists and their work and to educate the next generation of storytellers. AFI’s founding Trustees included Chairman Gregory Peck, Vice Chairman Sidney Poitier, Francis Ford Coppola, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Jack Valenti and George Stevens, Jr., as Director.
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