Denzel Washington was honored last night with the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. As one of the most popular and beloved figures in the industry, basically everyone showed up for him. Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Cicely Tyson, Spike Lee, Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster, Jerry Bruckheimer, Mahershala Ali, Jamie Foxx, Frances McDormand (who will costar with Washington in Joel Coen’s Macbeth), Cary Elwes, Keegan Michael Key, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Hudson, Issa Rae—a LOT of people turned up for Denzel. The soundbites are all lovely, as is to be expected for one of the most influential figures in entertainment, who is also a genuinely good person. Denzel Washington has inspired a generation of black artists, but he also champions them, and the ripple effect of his support can be seen in some of the biggest movies in history.
Of course, that’s all very nice and I’m sure the broadcast (airing later this month) will be beautiful and moving. Right now, though, I am hung up on Julia Roberts. Guess where she was seated during Denzel’s tribute? Next to Pauletta Washington. Julia Roberts was at the head table. Not only at the head table, in pride of place! Every cutaway to Denzel’s table is going to feature Julia and her big toothy grin! After the state banquet, everyone is trying to decode the seating arrangement and decide whether or not positioning the young royals away from Trump is some kind snub, and if Rose Chumley’s seat is a social demotion or proof of her power, since she was plainly visible to both of the Cambridges. I would like to apply this level of forensic gossip to Julia Roberts’ place next to the Washingtons at the AFI tribute. Welcome to my forensic gossip files.= Let us examine the seating arrangement at the head table. Two of the Washington children were present, seated outside Spike Lee, who was next to Denzel. Then comes Pauletta Washington, then Julia, then Cicely Tyson. Julia is a huge star, for sure. But Cicely Tyson is a LEGEND. And yet, except for shots of Ms. Tyson delivering her tribute to Denzel, she is not included in shots of the head table. Most shots run Spike Lee to Julia.
Next, we turn to the placement of Spike Lee and Julia Roberts. This arrangement is equating them in importance to Denzel’s career. Spike Lee has directed Denzel four times, including his Oscar-nominated turn in Malcolm X. Julia Roberts co-starred with Washington in The Pelican Brief. According to the AFI, these are totally the same thing, of equal weight and value in the journey of Denzel’s career.
What does this evidence tell us? For one thing, that the AFI thinks presenting Denzel with an Oscar is the same thing as directing him to a nomination. And for another, that the AFI wants the money shots for their television broadcast, even if it means scooting Cicely Tyson down the table. Still unresolved is whether or not The Pelican Brief is WAY more popular than I remember. The investigation remains open.