John David Washington received his first Golden Globe nomination for his performance in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, in which he plays Ron Stallworth, an idealistic black cop who joins the all-white Colorado Spring police force. Based on a memoir by the real-life detective, “Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime”, this stranger-than-fiction tale is John David Washington’s first leading role and tells the story of how Stallworth impersonated a white supremacist and infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s.
Before his nomination, the 34-year-old was largely known as the son of the award-winning actor Denzel Washington, something John said he would lie about when he was younger. “I would say my dad is a lawyer or my dad is a cop,” he told the HFPA about the connection to his world-famous father. “I would lie to people about that. And this was the pre-Google era, so I could get away with it.”
Determined to make his own name, after a small role in Malcolm X (1992) alongside his father in the title role, the younger Washington shunned the Hollywood spotlight and pursued professional sports instead. Washington attended his father’s alma mater, Morehouse College, on a football scholarship. As a running back at Morehouse, he set school records for yards in a career season, and single game and led his conference in rushing in 2005. Undrafted in the 2006 draft, Washington was signed by the St. Louis Rams, and stints in the NFL Europe and the United Football Leagues. “I was motivated because of certain people’s idea of this nepotism, that I didn’t earn anything…” he told us. “I played through five concussions, broken ribs, torn meniscus. I had a sports hernia surgery recently, and that was the NFL’s parting gift to me, and I have been done for eight years. But I was able to play through all of that with people thinking I hadn’t gone through anything.”
Interestingly, Washington’s nomination comes precisely three decades after Denzel attended the 1988 Golden Globes as a nominee in the same drama category for his performance in Cry Freedom – also as his first Golden Globes nomination!
After the injuries that forced him out of professional football, young Washington returned to Hollywood, first behind the camera as the co-producer on The Book of Eli (2010) starring his father and directed by Allen and Albert Hughes. He stepped in front of the camera in 2015 when he landed a role as a series regular on HBO’s TV series Ballers playing Ricky Jerret, a cocky wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins, with Dwayne Johnson as his agent. He quickly expanded his profile, and after BlacKkKlansman, he was cast as the lead in Monsters and Men, acted in The Old Man & the Gun with Robert Redford, all of which were released this year.
Washington's nomination is one of four for BlacKkKlansman, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Supporting Actor for Adam Driver, and Best Director for Spike Lee.
“I hope that is what this film can inspire, a dialogue and sort of changing the vernacular of hate and sort of finding a common language to be able to at least co-exist” concluded the actor.