How John David Washington's 'positive rebellion' led to a Golden Globe nom

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There’s no scientific evidence that says talent is hereditary, but John David Washington is a good argument in favour of the idea. The 34-year-old football player-turned-critically-acclaimed actor (and #boyfriendmaterial) got his first acting credit when he appeared in his father’s 1992 Spike Lee film, Malcolm X. We know Washington is a common last name, but yeah, his dad is Denzel; that Denzel.

Now 26 years later, John David Washington is up for his first Golden Globe for starring in another Spike Lee joint, this time taking a lead role in BlacKkKlansman and we think he's got it in the bag. Going from movie extra to Golden Globe-nominated lead actor is a substantial jump, and we’re breaking down just how Washington got there.


Washington grew up as the eldest of four siblings in L.A. While hanging around the set of his pop's flick Malcolm X, director Spike Lee offered nine-year-old John David a small speaking role as a child in a classroom. “I was excited, I was through the moon about it,” Washington said about the experience. In a nice full-circle moment, he's now earned first Golden Globe nomination with Lee, 30 years after dad Denzel was nominated for the first time for Best Actor in a Drama for Cry Freedom.

denzel washington and his family onstage at the Golden Globes


Washington’s most famous parent is dad Denzel, but his mother Pauletta (Pearson) Washington is also a huge talent, with the couple meeting on the set of the TV film Wilma in 1977. Pauletta is a musician and has acted in several TV shows and films, a fact that Washington pointed out to an interviewer earlier this year when asked only about his Oscar-winning father. Good-looking, talented, and a feminist—how is he single?


It would take almost three decades for Washington to return to acting after his Malcolm X role, instead focusing on sports. Washington has spoken publicly about not wanting to be in his father’s shadow, instead throwing his focus into football and what he called a "positive rebellion." A running back at Morehouse College, Washington went on to play for the St. Louis Rams in 2006. He was then drafted by NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire in 2007 and played for the United Football League in 2012 until a torn Achilles effectively ended his football career in 2013.

John David Washington


Following the end of his football career, Washington was ready to return to acting and made his TV debut on HBO’s Ballers, playing the bravado-filled Ricky Jerret who was, you guessed it, a professional football player. There’s method acting and then there’s Washington-method acting, which includes years of (unexpected) preparation. Now four seasons into his breakthrough role and starring in a series lead by Dwayne Johnson's outsized personality, Washington continues to steal every scene he’s in. On paper, Ricky Jerret is a blowhard narcissicist, but Washington makes him lovable. Now that’s talent.

John David Washington in Ballers


Up until this year, Washington’s biggest role was in Ballers. But in 2018, John made the jump to the big screen in a big way. Kicking off a year that included four (FOUR!) films with Monsters and Men, Washington played his first of three cops in the socially charged drama. The topical and extremely relevant film looks at police shootings of unarmed black men in America, with Washington playing a police officer trying to see both sides of the epidemic. The critically-acclaimed film opened at Sundance and earned Washington an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Male.


Similar title, very different movie. Washington continued his huge (HUGE!) 2018 year with a performance in the Anthony Mandler-directed adaptation of the Walter Dean Myers book, Monster. He also appeared as a police officer again in the Robert Redford drama The Old Man and the Gun, playing a detective opposite Casey Affleck.


Though Washington carried a badge for all three roles this year, the characters couldn’t be more different, showcasing this relative newbie's incredible range. His biggest role was courtesy of Spike Lee’s historical drama, BlacKkKlansman. Washington plays Ron Stallworth, the first black detective in the Colorado Springs police department, who, along with his fellow police officers, was able to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, even speaking on the phone with Grand Wizard David Duke. Washington’s role opposite Adam Driver earned him and Driver their first Golden Globe noms, as well as a Best Director nod for Lee and Best Motion Picture – Drama nomination for the film. And Washington had one of the healthiest reactions to the news we've heard. 

John David Washington in BlacKkKsmanbornready.gifJohn David Washington in BlacKkKsman

We aren't expecting anything less than more stellar roles for John David Washington in 2019 and, fingers crossed, another Golden Globe to add to the Washington mantle.