Throughout his career, Denzel Washington has dealt with prejudice. In fact, when he was just starting out, Washington was unhappy with one particular role that he was offered and feared that it could ruin the trajectory of his career. Speaking to Times Talk (via Madame Noire), he explained, “I got a part in a movie in 1986. [The character] raped a white woman; they tried to electrocute him, but it didn’t work, and he became a cult hero. Then they tried to hang him.” Understandably, Washington was concerned about the film’s portrayal of a Black character, and he made his thoughts clear despite being offered a large salary to play the role. “I called Sidney [Poitier] and told him, ‘Man, they are offering me $600,000 …’ And he told me, ‘… the first, two, three or four films you do in this business will dictate how you are perceived.'” Ultimately, he turned down the part, following his intuition that it was wrong.
During a 2016 interview with CBS News, Washington also addressed the lack of diversity at the Academy Awards, calling the Oscars unfair. “I’ve lived it,” he explained. “I’ve been the guy at the Oscars without my name being called … when my name is called … when everybody thought they was going to call my name and they didn’t.” Despite the inequality, Washington encourages performers not to quit.