Denzel Washington’s role on practice day sparked surprising controversy
In “Training Day,” Washington’s Alonzo takes ultra-naive rookie Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) under his wing, and dire consequences undoubtedly ensue. Hoyt learns more than he ever wanted to know about the inner workings of the LAPD narcotics unit – but behind the scenes, Hawke also gained a new perspective watching Washington work. “I knew it was going to win the Oscar,” Hawke told Yahoo in 2021. “I knew it around day three. I remember thinking that if I don’t screw up the movie, it will win the Oscar. “
Still, Hawke was the least of Washington’s problems on “Training Day.” The fact that he was playing such a corrupt character for the first time caused quite a stir even before the film had finished production. “It was a very dangerous thing at this point in his career for Denzel to play a villain,” Hawke recalled. “You know, he was badgered by the NAACP that he shouldn’t play a bad guy and stuff like that.”
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as its name suggests, works to elevate and encourage black excellence in industries like film (and many others). They’ve been around since 1909 and have always stood up for black artists – their annual Image Awards ceremony is a particularly poignant statement in the face of the Oscars controversy of recent years. Washington was (and always will be) important to the advancement of black artists in film, so it makes sense that the NAACP is following his career so closely. May be too up close, as Hawke detailed in a 2015 Loyola Marymount University School of Film & TV Q&A:
“The NAACP came on set and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And you know, no political organization has ever told me about the roles I’m taking. And Denzel, I remember him saying, ‘What, Al Pacino can play a bad guy. Gene Hackman can play a villain. I can’t play a villain? I’m an artist. That’s how I direct, not by being a dubious role model by only playing irreproachable people. I will be a role model by being excellent at my job.