As I read Andrew O’Hehir’s review in Salon of Denzel Washington’s new film Flight, which opens this weekend, I kept trying to put my finger on what exactly it was about the tone of the piece that rubbed me the wrong way. The review, called “Denzel’s Coked-Up Take on the Sully Saga,” starts straight off with lofty praise of Washington’s eminent talent as an actor: “At this point it’s a total cliché to describe Denzel Washington as one of our greatest screen actors.” O’Hehir then proceeds to paint a portrait of Washington so great that he could be raceless.
Because that, it would appear, is what makes a black actor great—to transcend, or perhaps even shed, his blackness. He is that good.
With his impressive physical presence, ladykilling charm and stern, sarcastic demeanor, Washington strikes me as a movie star from a different era, perhaps the age of Clark Gable and Laurence Olivier. That overlooks the obvious fact that a man of Washington’s background and color could never have been a major star in an earlier day, but that too—that sense of belonging both to the present and the past—is part of his appeal.\n