Denzel does Bikoby Brandon Edmonds / 12.08.2009
Part 3 of our series on how how Hollywood represents us, Cry Freedom, circa 1987. White terrorists called in bomb threats and the NP soon banned it, all because of the sheer erotic wallop of Denzel Washington in his prime. Black men weren’t supposed to look this good, be this confident or talk so well. Here was Sydney Poitier’s dignity and restraint run through Paul Robeson’s towering soul via Harry Belafonte’s velvet smooth sexiness. It’s a wonderful performance lifted, again, by the lightness of the playing. Denzels’ Biko is quick to smile. A young man enlivened by ideas, discovering his own power within wider currents of protest, in a performance that makes Biko’s tragic passing bite like Hani’s. His Biko’s always mobile, stopping only to boink, strategize and think. It’s better than Denzel’s Malcolm X for Spike Lee, which he took far too seriously, being closer to home, to his own history. In that film, Washington drained his eyes of everything but the mania for justice and a doomed glint – as if he could foretell the hail of bullets to come. It’s exactly what Brad Pitt would do playing Jesus: become as unreal as an icon.