In the late 1980s after six successful years on “St. Elsewhere,” Denzel Washington was making a successful segue into the movies. Just as that show was about to end for NBC, he received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor as a South African activist in the 1987 film “Cry Freedom.” He lost the award that evening to Sean Connery (“The Untouchables”), but it would be just two years later that he would take home the gold for his performance as Private Silas Tripp in “Glory.”
Watch his acceptance speech above from the 1990 Academy Awards ceremony as the 36-year-old actor beams in front of his mother and wife after presenter Geena Davis announces his name. He also thanks the men of the 54th from the American Civil War. In the film, Washington played an emancipated former slave who is recruited by Union forces to join the first formal unit of the U.S. Army made up entirely of African-Americans.
In addition to Washington’s win, the film also took Oscars for Best Cinematography (Freddie Francis) and Best Sound (Donald O. Mitchell, Gregg Rudloff, Elliot Tyson, and Russell Williams II). It received additional nominations for Best Art Direction (losing to “Batman”) and Best Editing (losing to “Born on the Fourth of July”).
The other nominees competing against Washington were:
Danny Aiello – “Do the Right Thing”
Aiello played Sal, the owner of the Pizzeria where Spike Lee’s character works in this film about racial bigotry in modern day Brooklyn.
Dan Aykroyd – “Driving Miss Daisy”
Aykroyd received his only nomination playing the son of Jessica Tandy’s elderly Miss Daisy in this Best Picture Winner. It was a real change of pace for Aykroyd, who had been part of the original “Saturday Night Live” and then built his movie career with comedies “Ghostbusters” and “The Blues Brothers.”
Marlon Brando – “A Dry White Season”
The final Oscar nomination of this legendary two-time winner came for his performance as a human rights lawyer who helps Donald Sutherland seek justice for a beaten black boy in 1970s South Africa. Brando was reportedly so moved by the film’s story he came out of retirement for to make the film.
Martin Landau – “Crimes and Misdemeanors”
The Hollywood legend earned his second Oscar nomination for his performance as man who kills his mistress in this dark Woody Allen hit. He would wait just five years more for a victory of his own in “Ed Wood.”
Over the course of his career, Washington has received a total of nine Oscar nominations (eight for acting and one for producing “Fences”). He won as Best Actor for the 2001 movie “Training Day.” He is currently nominated as Best Actor for “Roman J. Israel Esq.” at the upcoming 2018 ceremony.
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