Best Actor nominee Denzel Washington was born in Mount Vernon and grew up in the area until he enrolled at Fordham University, later moving to San Francisco. During his time in Mount Vernon, Washington joined the Boys Club of Mt. Vernon (now the Boys and Girls Club) where he spent his free time while his parents worked. Washington is nominated for his role in Fences, which is a Best Picture nominee itself.
Should he win, Washington would have more Oscars under his belt than any other African-American actor. He is already the most nominated, having landed his seventh nod this year for Fences, and is also the only African-American to win multiple acting Oscars.
Washington plays Troy Maxson, an overbearing husband and father wrestling with personal demons. Washington won the SAG Award for this performance, and when he played the role on stage in 2010 he also won a Tony. Counting his nomination for Best Picture as a producer of the film, Washington has been nominated for eight Oscars, winning twice: Best Supporting Actor for “Glory” (1989) and Best Actor for “Training Day” (2001).
But if there was ever a time for Washington to make history with a third Oscar win, it would be this year for Fences. The passion project took decades to get to the screen, with its author, August Wilson, insisting it be directed by an African-American, and later, with Washington’s insistence that he play the role onstage before adapting it to film — which he did, with Viola Davis as his costar.
“We’re a tight band, we know the music,” Washington told The New York Times about himself and Davis, who is a favorite to win Best Supporting Actress for her turn. In a comment that easily could have been made about his own connection to the role, Washington said Davis’ performance has an air of destiny.
“This is where the actor meets the role,” he told the Times. “I hope she has other great roles. But this is the role.”
Washington’s road to making Academy Awards history began nearly three decades ago, when he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for 1987’s Cry Freedom. He lost that year to Sean Connery in The Untouchables.
Three years later, he won Best Supporting Actor for his role as Pvt. Trip in Glory at the 1990 Oscars. That year he beat out Danny Aiello for Do the Right Thing, Dan Aykroyd for Driving Miss Daisy, Marlon Brando for A Dry White Season and Martin Landau for Crimes and Misdemeanors. He dedicated the award to the Civil War soldiers portrayed in the film, who he said “helped make this country free.”
Washington’s next Oscar win came in 2002 for his lead performance in Training Day. The evening was an especially important day in Academy history, as Halle Berry won the Best Actress award for Monster’s Ball, marking the first time two African-American actors had won in the same year.
The win also occurred the same night Sidney Poitier was awarded an honorary Oscar. Washington was just the second African-American actor to win best actor, after Poitier took home the award nearly 40 years earlier. In his acceptance speech, Washington acknowledged the context of his win.
“Forty years I’ve been chasing Sidney [Poitier], they finally give it to me, what’d they do? They give it to him the same night,” Washington joked. “I’ll always be chasing you, Sidney. I’ll always be following in your footsteps. There’s nothing I would rather do, sir. Nothing I would rather do. God bless you. God bless you.”
He received his first Best Actor nod for Malcolm X in 1993, losing to Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman — and was nominated for the same award again in 2000 for playing boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in The Hurricane.
Other Westchester County Actors up for Oscars this year are Mamaroneck High School 1999 graduate Fred Berger, who is one of the producers for one of the most talked about movies during this award season, La La Land, and Peekskill-born Mel Gibson is nominated in the Best Director category for Hacksaw Ridge — also a Best Picture nominee.
The Academy Awards airs Feb. 26 on ABC and will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel.