You hear Denzel Washington before you see him. The 61-year-old Oscar winner, making his way through the press scrum at the Washington premiere of his new movie “Fences,” is laughing like he owns the place — and he does, sort of. He can lay claims to not just the rolled-out red carpet for a film he directed, produced and starred in, but also the actual building, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, for which Washington and wife, Pauletta, helped raise more than $20 million.
“It’s surreal really,” said Pauletta Washington of entering the building on Constitution Avenue for the first time. “We walked in, immediately, and I felt chills. I’m so proud of all the work that everybody did. I can’t wait for the tour.”
The Hollywood couple, who held a star-studded fundraiser for the Smithsonian museum at their California home in April, hadn’t stepped inside the building before Tuesday’s special screening. So the actor hasn’t seen the original 1987 playbill for “Fences,” the Pulitzer Prize winning play by August Wilson about a working class black family living in 1950s Pittsburgh, on display upstairs.
But Washington still had a lot to say about what goes on in the District.
When asked about a fake news story that reported the “Training Day” star was throwing his star power behind Donald Trump’s presidential bid, he laughed. “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed, if you do read it, you’re misinformed,” said Washington. So what’s the answer to that particular puzzle? “What a responsibility you all have,” he said taking in the reporters on the other side of the velvet rope, “to tell the truth, not just to be first. Anything you practice you’ll get good at, including B.S.”
Alrighty then, so how about this movie?
“Fences,” the first of Wilson’s plays to be adapted for the big screen, explores race and class relations in America, a topic other members of the cast felt was especially prescient in “these fraught political times.” Washington saw it a different way.
“I wouldn’t make it that small to say it’s political, it’s a lot of things,” said Washington, who won a Tony for his performance in the 2010 Broadway revival of the play. “What I want people to get from it depends upon what they bring to it. It’s not for me to decide what it is, it’s for you to watch it, enjoy it, and you decide what it is to you.”
And with that, Washington and his wife headed down the rest of the red carpet, spending more than 45 minutes chatting with reporters before disappearing inside the Oprah Winfrey Theater where prominent Washingtonians including former attorney general Eric Holder sat waiting to watch a film set in the 1950s, written in the 1980s and premiering to a 2016 audience.