Denzel Washington is starring in a new film that's making waves not only at the box office but among members of the Arab-American community.
The Siege, in which Washington plays an FBI agent, ranked No. 2 at the box office in its opening weekend. (The Waterboy was No. 1.) The Siege is a political thriller about Arab and Islamic terrorism on U.S. soil, and that has sparked protests that the movie promotes the stereotyping of Muslims as potential terrorists.
"It's not a condemnation of Arabs by any stretch of the imagination," says Washington. "It could be any group of people."
The movie centers on New York City as a terrorist target, and Washington says this is a plot device that might call to mind the World Trade Center bombing.
"If the film was about domestic terrorists, then maybe we would have used Oklahoma City as a model," says the actor. "I think the biggest threat right now is from domestic terrorism. I think that what was very sad in the Arab-American community is that when the bombs blew up in Oklahoma City, that they went corralling up every Arab-American with 100 miles of the town.
"I can understand the Arab-Americans being concerned. But Americans better not be naive enough to think that it is only people from the Middle East when in fact it could be your cousin," he adds.
Washington first found widespread recognition on the TV drama series St. Elsewhere (1982-88).
He won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Glory (1989). Two years before that, he had been nominated in the same category for his portrayal of Steve Biko in Cry Freedom (1987), but lost the trophy to Sean Connery (The Untouchables). Later, in 1992, he was nominated in the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role for Malcolm X, in which he played the title role. (The winner that year was Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman.)
His other movie credits include Courage Under Fire (1996), The Preacher's Wife (1996), Crimson Tide (1995), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Philadelphia (1993), Mississippi Masala (1992), A Soldier's Story (1984), and his big-screen debut, Carbon Copy (1981).
When CBS This Morning Co-Anchor Mark McEwen asks Washington (who is married with four children) about his status as a sex symbol, the actor laughs and says, "You know, it used to bother me a lot more."
"BecauseÂ…maybe it says to me, 'Oh, we don't respect you as an actor'," says Washington, 43. "[But] people are gonna write what they want. People have the right to feel what they want. I have to continue to do my job, which is an actor, an entertainer, a producer, a director or whatever it isÂ… I have to keep my eyes focused on what it is I'm doing."
But such adulation is not the worst thing in the world.
"No, no, no, no," says Washington. "I have no complaints at all. At all."