Denzel Washington has been comfortable in front of an audience for 20 years, but it’s only been in the last few years that he’s felt more at ease heading a production company of his own.
“I’m trying to keep a handle on all of it,” Washington says of his Mundy Lane Entertainment. “I’m also learning how to administrate a little bit better, trust other people and be able to say ‘You run with it.’
But it’s not always easy to let others do their jobs — especially when your name is the one foremost on the finished product. “You want everything to be a certain way, but you can’t do everything yourself.”
Washington’s five-year-old entertainment company produced its first film, “Devil in a Blue Dress” from the Walter Mosley novel in 1995, followed by the docudrama “Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream,” and most recently “The Preacher’s Wife.” The TBS documentary about Aaron was nominated for an Emmy and an Oscar last year.
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Bringing “The Preacher’s Wife,” a remake of the 1947 Loretta Young/Cary Grant comedy “The Bishop’s Wife,” to the bigscreen was important to Washington because it afforded him the opportunity to make a point about the value of family, community and faith.
While Washington has not set his sights on sending a particular message with each project he chooses, his most recent films do have one thing in common: They have put hundreds of African Americans to work in show busi-ness. And Washington says this is more important to him now than is finding future roles for himself.
“I’m happy to know that on a film like ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ we put 100 or so many black people to work, and it was the same with ‘The Preacher’s Wife,’ he said. “And it will be the same thing with other films that I’m involved in, whether I’m on a producer level or not.
“We do it because they’re capable and because nobody else is necessarily looking out for them,” he says of African-American talent.
Washington says his hiring practices were in part inspired by filmmaker Spike Lee, who he believes has “put more African-Americans to work in this industry than anybody else. I’m happy and proud to be associated with Spike Lee for that.” Washington said that he and others, including filmmakers John Singleton, Robert Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans, are following Lee’s lead.
Mundy Lane currently has five projects in active development — including a couple of epic, historical dramas — and five others on the back burner for Washington to star in, produce and/or direct. Washington declined to discuss any of his projects in detail.
“What’s of acute interest and importance to Denzel is that he wants to be passionate about one project at a time,” said Cecil Cox, a former William Morris film agent who segued to Mundy Lane about nine months ago. He is the company’s only other executive. “Denzel doesn’t subscribe to the shotgun approach where we scatter a dozen or so projects around town.”
Mundy Lane was initially set up at TriStar Pictures in 1992 by Washington and Flo Allen, his manager at the time. Debra Martin Chase, who 18 months ago segued to Whitney Houston’s production company, spent two years working with Washington. Cox, who oversees creative affairs and the business operation, joined Mundy Lane last July when Washington moved his banner to Fox.
“The company started basically because my manager thought it was a good idea,” Washington says. “I was like, OK, but I was on the road all the time. Over the course of the last few years I’ve gotten much more involved and actually enjoy this part of the process — developing material and evolving as a filmmaker.”