Denzel Washington: ‘I wanted to please God’ in latest directing effort

Adelle M. Banks/Religion News Service | 12/23/2021, 6 p.m.
Longtime actor Denzel Washington said his faith was a part of every decision he made in directing the new movie, …

Longtime actor Denzel Washington said his faith was a part of every decision he made in directing the new movie, “A Journal For Jordan,” based on the writings of an Army sergeant who was killed in action.

1st Sgt. Charles Monroe King died in Iraq in 2006 and left behind his partner, Dana Canedy, and their infant son, Jordan. Ms. Canedy, a former New York Times journalist and now publisher at Simon & Schuster, wrote a New Year’s Day article in the newspaper about 1st Sgt. King’s devotion to faith, the military and his family. The article eventually led to a book, and now a movie is set for release in theaters on Christmas Day, with actor Michael B. Jordan portraying 1st Sgt. King.

Mr. Washington, 66, who has played a Christmas angel in “The Preacher’s Wife” and Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X in a self-titled movie, said the new film projects a message about love lasting beyond the grave.

“It’s cliché to say, but I’m a living witness, having gotten to know Dana,” he said. “True love never dies. That’s what they have — not had — have.”

Mrs. Canedy, 56, whose now-15-year-old son reads his father’s journal “pretty regularly,” agrees.

“Love, true love, never leaves you. If I drew my last breath today, I would still be Jordan’s mother and still love him,” she said. “And if you believe that you’re more than your physical body, that your spirit and your soul lives on, then you have to believe the spirit and soul continues to love you.”

Mr. Washington and Ms. Canedy spoke to Religion News Service on Dec. 10 about their faith, what 1st Sgt. King wrote about his beliefs and the staying power of his words 15 years after his death.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Denzel, I understand you started scenes you filmed of “A Journal For Jordan” by gathering the cast and crew for prayer.

Mr. Washington: Sometimes. The spirit of God is throughout the film. Charles is an angel. I’m a believer. Dana’s a believer. So that was a part of every decision, hopefully, that I tried to make. I wanted to please God, and I wanted to please Charles, and I wanted to please Dana.

Ms. Canedy: Thank you.

Denzel, are you a member of West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, and if so, how much are you involved there given your busy acting and directing career?

Mr. Washington: I helped build it. I am a member, also a member of the (Cultural Christian Center) out here in New York.

I have more than one spiritual leader in my life. So there’s different people I talk to, and I try to make sure I try to put God first in everything. I was reading something this morning in my meditation about selfishness and how the only way to true independence is complete dependence on the Almighty.

Dana, how did your faith help you as you coped, first with Charles being away in the military, and then with his death? How do you describe the state of your faith now?

Ms. Canedy: The older I get the stronger it gets. I didn’t grow up in a traditional Christian home. My parents were believers, but we didn’t attend church regularly. And so when Charles died, I always assumed if someone close to me died, I’d be angry with God. But I felt enveloped in his love and uplifted by knowing that I can get through this with my faith. There were all these signs, from the moment he died, that God was with me and Charles was with us, very specific things. Like coming home one day, three days after he died, from a military base where I had to fill out all this paperwork — we hadn’t buried him yet. And I remember walking in the door, thinking my son — who was a 6-month-old, I was holding him — suddenly he was heavy. And I thought, Charles, how am I going to do this? Please give me a sign you’re still here. And this was a time when we all had answering machines at home. I turned on the answering machine. And one of his soldiers is calling from Iraq, saying, “He gave me your phone number and made me promise that if anything ever happened to him, I would call you and tell you he loves you and you’re going to be OK.” That was God.

I wondered about the journal specifically and how much Charles talked about faith. I believe I heard the actor portraying Jordan read that if he was down he knows he can “talk to the one who can do something about it.” Were there other parts of the journal that related to faith that either of you would speak to that struck you?

Ms. Canedy: There are themes in the journal that come through—his dedication to military service, his absolute respect for women, which is one of the things that comes through the most, and his religious faith. He put Bible verses in there for Jordan.

He writes and speaks about religion at least a dozen times throughout the journal.

Anything else that struck you, Denzel, about the journal especially related to faith?

Mr. Washington: That actual line I added — talk and speak to the one that can do something about it — and I was always frustrated when I was cutting the film. Because the young boy, he didn’t quite understand what I was trying to say, to talk to the one (points heavenward). But of course, it was kind of the way God wanted because in the child’s mind, talk to the one who can do something about it — Mom. (Both laugh.)

Ms. Canedy: The beauty of that is that, in the real world, there are things Jordan has to grow to appreciate in the journal. There are certain things in the journal that resonate with him as a boy. There are certain things that will resonate when he is a husband. There are certain things that will resonate when he’s a father. But throughout that, Charles’ reference to the power of religion, the power of prayer, there are messages for any of those points in his life.

Dana, will you go to the movie on Christmas Day and either way, how do you and Jordan celebrate Christmas?

Ms. Canedy: We have a party every year — we didn’t do it during COVID — with about 25 of our friends. I cook. My mother cooks. And some of our friends only see each other that one time a year. I started that when Jordan was a baby because I wanted him to feel surrounded with love and family. So family flies in, friends fly in. And this year, we’re going to do that. And then we’re all gonna try — anonymously — to go to the movie to see it. And Chanté (Adams, the actress who portrays Ms. Canedy in the movie) and her mother and father will be joining us.

Mr. Washington: Oh, wow.