(born December 28, 1954, Mount Vernon, New York, U.S.) American actor celebrated for his engaging and powerful performances. Throughout his career he has been regularly praised by critics, and his consistent success at the box office helped to dispel the perception that African American actors could not draw mainstream white audiences.
After graduating from Fordham University (B.A., 1977), Washington decided to pursue acting as a career and joined the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. After several successful stage performances in California and New York, he made his screen debut in the comedy Carbon Copy (1981). He first began to receive national attention for his work on the television drama St. Elsewhere (198287). He received his first Oscar nomination for a supporting role for his portrayal of South African activist Stephen Biko in Cry Freedom (1987). Two years later he won the Oscar for best supporting actor for his performance as a freed slave fighting in the Union army in the American Civil War film Glory (1989).
Washington's skill as an actor and his popular appeal as a leading man were firmly established in the 1990s. He gave memorable performances in the romantic comedy Mississippi Masala (1991), the Shakespearean comedy Much Ado About Nothing (1993), the courtroom drama Philadelphia (1993), the hard-boiled mystery Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), and the military thriller Crimson Tide (1995). During this time he frequently worked with director Spike Lee, starring in Mo' Better Blues (1990), He Got Game (1998), and most significantly Malcolm X (1992), in which Washington gave a complex and powerful performance as the civil rights activist and earned an Academy Award nomination for best actor. He received a second best-actor nomination for his portrayal of boxer Rubin Carter in the film The Hurricane (1999).
In Training Day (2001), Washington played a corrupt and violent police detective, the performance for which he became only the second African American actor (the first was Sidney Poitier) to win an Oscar for best actor. In 2002 Washington made his directorial debut with the film Antwone Fisher, for which he was praised for his work both behind and in front of the camera.
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