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Actor Denzel Washington addresses the audience as he accepts the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award. Image Credit: AP

Actor Denzel Washington was honoured by Hollywood for a pioneering career spanning five decades and two Oscars that opened the door for a generation of black movie stars.

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With Spike Lee. Image Credit: AP

Director and frequent collaborator Spike Lee presented the 64-year-old with the American Film Institute (AFI) Life Achievement award — billed as “the highest honour for a career in film” — at a gala event at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

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Morgan Freeman Image Credit: AP

Hollywood’s small elite of A-list black leading men paid tribute to Washington’s trailblazing career — fellow Oscar winners Morgan Freeman, Jamie Foxx and Mahershala Ali took to the stage, as did ‘Black Panther’ stars Chadwick Boseman and Michael B Jordan.

“You paved the way. You showed us the path. But what’s truly monumental is that your influence, your reach, transcends race without ever denying it,” said Ali.

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US actor Michael B. Jordan and his mother Donna Jordan arrive for the 47th American Film Institute (AFI) Life Achievement Award Gala at the Dolby theatre in Hollywood on June 6, 2019. / AFP / Frederic J. BROWN Image Credit: AFP

He added: “We are here because we stand on the shoulders of a giant.”

“There is no ‘Black Panther’ without Denzel Washington,” said Boseman, referring to Marvel Studios’ first film to focus on a black superhero.

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Julia Roberts pays tribute at the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award gala honoring actor Denzel Washington in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Monica Almeida Image Credit: REUTERS

Predominantly white Hollywood has been heavily criticised for its diversity problem, notably in the #OscarsSoWhite campaign surrounding the 2016 Academy Awards.

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Washington is one of only four black stars to win a best actor Oscar.

He won a best supporting actor Oscar for American Civil War epic ‘Glory’ (1989) and a best actor statuette for his bad cop character in Antoine Fuqua’s crime thriller ‘Training Day’ (2001).

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Denzel Washington and family arrive at the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award gala honoring him in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Monica Almeida Image Credit: REUTERS

One of cinema’s most versatile actors, Washington has received acclaim for both cerebral, nuanced roles and action parts in movies such as ‘Man on Fire,’ ‘American Gangster’ and ‘Remember the Titans.’

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US actress Issa Rae arrives for the 47th American Film Institute (AFI) Life Achievement Award Gala at the Dolby theatre in Hollywood on June 6, 2019. / AFP / Frederic J. BROWN Image Credit: AFP

He portrayed the American Muslim minister and civil rights campaigner Malcolm X in Lee’s 1992 biopic.

Other recent recipients of the annual AFI lifetime achievement award include George Clooney, Al Pacino and Meryl Streep. Freeman and Sidney Poitier have also been honoured.

The gala also featured a surprise appearance by Beyonce.