Denzel Washington has made history several times. He’s the most Oscar-nominated Black actor in Academy Awards history, with 10 nominations and two wins. Washington is a trailblazer in many ways, including being the first Black actor to receive two Best Supporting Actor nominations in 1989 for the film Glory. He’s also the first Black actor to be nominated for both acting and producing (Best Picture) in the same year, in 2016 for his film Fences. And the list of firsts for Washington goes on and on.
In addition to his numerous accolades, Washington is known for having a way with words. Throughout his career, Denzel Washington has continuously been revered as a wise man with insightful and inspiring rhetoric. This was most recently observed after the infamous Will Smith/Chris Rock slap at the 94th Academy Awards. While accepting the award for Best Actor at the ceremony, Will Smith remarked on what Denzel had said to him in the wake of his outburst. “Denzel (Washington) said to me a few minutes ago, he said, 'At your highest moment, be careful. That's when the devil comes for you. '”
Whether he’s giving advice, being interviewed, accepting an award, or addressing a commencement ceremony, Denzel Washington is sure to have something astute to say.
Here are just some of Denzel’s best quotes from his various live appearances.
Denzel Washington at the 2019 AFI Life Achievement Award
Denzel Washington was awarded the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award in 2019. In his acceptance speech, Washington gave a heartwarming homage to his wife, Pauletta Washington, as well as paid tribute to his late father-in-law. Washington went on to acknowledge his father-in-law’s contributions to humanity and how we all must continue on his message and teach it to future generations.
“In this Twitter, tweet, mean, mean world that we’ve created for our children, the least we can do is consider what we’ve done and think about the young people, the future, and individually, collectively, we can try and do the best we can. I blame no one; I look in the mirror. On the other side of it, what an opportunity we have because tomorrow’s the first day of the rest of our lives, so what an opportunity we have to practice what he preached.”
Denzel Washington at the 2017 NAACP Image Awards
At the 48th annual NAACP Image Awards in 2017, Washington was awarded as an outstanding actor in a leading role. In his acceptance speech, he encouraged his peers and everyone watching to never give up.
“So, keep working, keep striving. Never give up. If you fall down seven times, get up eight. Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. So, keep moving, keep growing, keep learning. See you at work.”
A 2016 red carpet premiere interview for his film ‘Fences’
At a premiere event for his film Fences, in which Washington received an NAACP Image Award in 2017, Washington explained how the film depicts generational trauma and is a wake-up call to Black men. When asked by the reporter, “can you talk about African American men and how this movie speaks to them,” Washington had this to say:
“Pain is passed down from father to son, from son to son. A lot of pain in Troy’s life is a result of the pain and damage from his father that he then visits on his son. We as Black men have to be mindful of that. Sometimes it’s unfair and sometimes we take it out on those that we love. And I’m guilty of that frustration that we all have. But we have a responsibility and a duty to be fathers – not to just make babies. But to be real fathers. And you can’t expect any good to come to you if you don’t visit any good to your son or your daughter. So, be a man.”
The 2015 Dillard University commencement speech
Washington gave a memorable commencement speech to the 2015 graduating class of Dillard University. In his speech, Washington advised the graduating class to always take chances and not fear failure.
“Fail big. That’s right. Fail big. Today is the beginning of the rest of your life and it can be very frightening. It’s a new world out there, and it’s a mean world out there, and you only live once. So do what you feel passionate about. Take chances, professionally. Don’t be afraid to fail. There’s an old IQ test with nine dots, and you had to draw five lines with a pencil within these nine dots without lifting the pencil, and the only way to do it was to go outside the box. So don’t be afraid to go outside the box. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to fail big, to dream big, but remember dreams without goals are just dreams and they ultimately fuel disappointment.”
The 2011 University of Pennsylvania commencement speech
Washington gave an iconic commencement speech to the 2011 graduating class of the University of Pennsylvania. Known famously as the “Fall Forward” speech, Washington tells graduates that taking risks and accepting failure is pivotal to achieving success.
“I’ve found that nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Nothing. Nelson Mandela said: “There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that’s less than the one you’re capable of living.” I’m sure in your experiences in school… in applying to college… in picking your major… in deciding what you want to do with life, people have told you to make sure you have something to “fall back on.” Make sure you got something to fall back on, honey. But I never understood that concept, having something to fall back on. If I’m going to fall, I don’t want to fall back on anything, except my faith. I want to fall forward. At least I figure that way I’ll see what I’m about to hit. Fall forward.”