It’s happened to me I don’t even know how many times by this point.
I see a famous person trending on Twitter, click on their name fearing the worst, and the top result isn’t “Betty White, Dead at 98” (phew!). It’s some random tweet from an account with 300 followers about how they, too, feared the worst, along with a GIF of actor Denzel Washington looking relieved. It happened to me yesterday, when Jack Black was the number-one trending topic on Twitter. Nervously, I was greeted with this.
I hate it. Not that Betty White isn’t dead — I’m glad Betty White is alive and Jack Black is doing Jack Black things — or even our collective (if Twitter algorithm-futzing) worry about a national treasure passing away (don’t joke about National Treasure star Nicolas Cage being dead; luckily, he’ll outlive us all). No, I hate that Denzel GIF. So much.
I’m not the only one.
God DAMN I wish I could mute that fucking gif of Denzel Washington. Y’all use it everytime a celebrity is trending.
— dyl (@DylanVadnais) March 26, 2020
take the denzel washington gif out of the app.
— inside man (@bobby) March 26, 2020
tryna get past Denzel gifs to find out why Jennifer Connelly is trending pic.twitter.com/ZxheC1xjD4
— Fart Decider (@MrChrisSult) March 30, 2020
are people just waiting for random celebrities to trend so they can post that one denzel washington gif and get likes
— bozo (@ihophater) March 26, 2020
In response to that last tweet, “Yes, yes they are.” They’re the same people who have notifications for when Donald Trump tweets, so they can claim to be “FIRST.” Reply guys, in other words. “The top reply to a Trump tweet is guaranteed to get in front of hundreds of thousands of eyes. That’s likes and retweets, not to mention profile views, replies, and new followers,” BuzzFeed wrote about the obnoxious phenomenon. At least the Trump repliers are usually dunking on the president or sharing poorly-designed memes — the Denzel GIF is the Twitter version of the guy who still does the Borat voice.
Denzel deserves better. Denzel is a great actor, a two-time Oscar winner, nine-time nominee. But I fear that in 30 years, people won’t remember him for his performances in Malcolm X or Glory — he’ll become the next Robert Redford, someone who’s too often associated with a meme. (It’s unclear who created the GIF, although Know Your Meme notes that one of its earliest known uses “was by ArcheAge Forums member Bearspeed on November 18, 2014,” a day that will live infamy.) That would be a shame.
Part of the issue is that both the Redford and Washington (I would hire that law firm) GIFs are from lesser-known movies in their filmography. For the former, it’s Jeremiah Johnson; for the latter, it’s Fallen, a Gregory Hoblit thriller about two Philadelphia detectives, played by Washington and John Goodman, who investigate a copy-cat killer. But there’s a ’90s supernatural twist, because of course there is. “This NYPD Blue-meets-The X-Files thriller stars an under-energized Denzel Washington as a homicide detective with a strange bond to a dead serial killer,” the mixed Entertainment Weekly review reads. “The evil spirit that once inhabited the murderer is now on the loose, passed from one soul to another.”
It would not surprise you to learn that the movie (written by Elia’s son and Zoe’s father, Nicholas Kazan) begins with Washington, in voiceover, saying, “I want to tell you about the time I almost died.” The GIF-friendly moment occurs about an hour-and-a-half into the two-hour film, while Detectives Hobbes (Washington) and Jonesy (Goodman) are sharing a laugh and philosophizing in the office. Here’s how the scene plays out:
Jonesy: Meanwhile, Delores says we’re put here to do one thing.
Hobbes: One thing? What’s that?
Jonesy: It’s different. It’s different for everybody. Hers is lasagna.
Hobbes: Lasagna? And just one thing, not two or…?
Jonesy: Maybe two, I don’t know. It’s just her opinion, Hobbes. But it’s like when a moment comes, we either do the right thing… or wrong.
Hobbes: When do you know when your moment comes?
That’s when a phone rings, triggering Washington’s reaction. So, every time you see someone share the GIF on Twitter to celebrate, I dunno, Vin Diesel or Bugs Bunny not being dead, you can now think of Denzel Washington and John Goodman discussing lasagna in a movie where an evil spirit is unleashed on the world after a serial killer gets the electric chair. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Fallen also stars James Gandolfini.
Hm, maybe I like the GIF now?
Maybe not. But what should supplant it? (I’m not so naive as to believe people responding to tweets with movie GIFs will ever be retired. Otherwise, the SpongeBob content factory would be out of business). Should it be another Denzel GIF, something from Training Day or The Hurricane? While I would love for Twitter to be swamped with Roman J. Israel, Esq. GIFs, I’m going to suggest another moment from Fallen.
It’s the perfect reaction to anyone who uses the Denzel GIF. I feel relieved already.