Isaiah Washington Returns to 'Grey's Anatomy' ... and the World Doesn't End

Why do some stars get a pass when they drop gay slurs and some don’t? It’s complicated, but at some point we have to put value on their positive actions and move on.

By now we are all too familiar with Isaiah Washington’s controversial dismissal from Grey’s Anatomy after uttering an anti-gay slur during a cast altercation. This one-time transgression saw Washington—a man who previously played gay in Spike Lee’s Get on the Bus, no small undertaking for a promising young African-American actor—banished to Hollywood’s version of Siberia for the better part of eight years. I’m not sure we will ever get the E! True Hollywood Story with precisely who said what during the infamous argument, and we don’t need to. Washington uttered the word ‘faggot,’ something that is not acceptable in any context. And while nobody deserves a pass on any type of hateful speech (can you hear me now, Alec Baldwin?), Washington has more than paid his penance. 

The only thing Hollywood values more than a scandal is a comeback, and Isaiah Washington is in the midst of mounting one long overdue that should firmly re-establish his professional career. He was named an Oscar contender for his lead role in Sundance favorite Blue Caprice, starred in the new CW sci-fi series The 100 and, most spectacularly, Washington is set to make a one-night-only return to Grey’s Anatomy—the scene of the “crime”—that poetically coincides with Sandra Oh’s departure from the show. (The episode airs Thursday, May 1.) The opportunity to create closure for both characters, and great ratings—Shonda Rhimes is nobody’s fool—was perhaps too good to pass up. 

While this is the stuff of great headlines, the more profound component of Washington’s second act lies in his role as producer of the highly regarded gay-themed independent movie Blackbird, co-starring Mo’nique and directed by Patrick Ian-Polk. In this film, currently making the festival rounds, Washington co-stars as the soul-searching father of a gay teen in a small Mississippi Baptist town. Cynics and skeptics will surely be quick to dismiss Washington’s role in the film as a contrived act of contrition. 

Washington himself admits, “It doesn’t go without being said that someone who was fired for being a homophobe is telling a story to re-ingratiate or reintegrate himself in the Hollywood system—or remove the idea that I am homophobic. That simply is not the truth. I would have done this movie no matter what.” Anyone can, and eventually everyone does apologize, but these words are hollow unless backed by the conviction of one’s character. 

In a world guided more by the Twittersphere than a moral compass, we often forget that people need to have the space to say dumb things. Justin Bieber has made a career out of it with far less talent (and fewer consequences) than Washington, and Paula Deen is somehow already back to full speed. Why can James Franco immediately get away with trying to pick up an underage girl while Isaiah Washington was Kryptonite for the better part of a decade for using the ‘f-word’? If we are to grow as a community, we need to demonstrate the capacity for less selective clemency. As an educator and parent I’ve trained myself to more evenly apply forgiveness—all while reserving the right to never forget. This rubric works for me, and apparently for GLAAD, too. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, the media watchdog welcomes Washington’s return and commends his growth. “His PSA and his statements promoting marriage equality in recent years have sent a strong message of support for LGBT people.” Everyone deserves the opportunity for redemption.

In a few weeks the headlines will proclaim that Isaiah Washington made his return to Seattle Grace, but they will miss the greater story. Washington is human, and like any of us, bigger than his worst transgression. He has earned this opportunity to prove that his heart is now in the right place, even if the process was sloppier and took longer than we would like. 

“I have been wanting to use my artistic life to give value to the marginalized, the abused, the neglected, the stigmatized individuals of all walks of life,” Washington explains. This Isaiah may be nobody’s prophet, but his story can serve as a cautionary tale for a society all too quick to judge. 

Leave a comment:

showing all comments · Subscribe to comments
  1. james Harris posted on 05/01/2014 04:20 PM
    I see an apology alluded to, but not made. HAS he ever apologized? He certainly never did so at the time. First he lied, then he let his minions smear T.R. Knight, while Washington seemed to bask in the support of homophobic African-Americans. That's what was going on when I last saw him. So he's played a soul-searching father since then? So what? He had played a gay man before all this happened. I already knew he could act. The question is, can he take responsibility and change personally (or will he be insulting some other gay co-worker in the future). I've seen no answer to that question. The question is simply being begged.
  2. leona harris posted on 05/01/2014 05:17 PM
    I refuse to watch the show because of Washington's return
    1. hp plantagenet posted on 05/01/2014 07:39 PM
      @leona harris The guy essentially lost eight years of his career, and you still think that's not enough?
  3. tidedoc posted on 05/01/2014 09:32 PM
    Why is it that only the truly erudite enlightened liberals among us are not only praised for their mean and petty opinions about anyone who disagrees with their views but are also the most unforgiving and rigid?

    What makes you people think there is any difference between your opinions towards those who do not support a certain lifestyle and their opinion towards you? Your are both rigid, inflexible insensitive horses asses who are in need of a manners lesson.

    When was the last time either of you apologize to anyone for acting like a horses ass to anyone? What good is an apology if you do not for the media and not from the heart?

    How many times do politicians or criminals say "I'm sorry" or overpaid athlete who with millions of dollars coming their way think they do not have to pay for deli food?

    And who are you to tell the rest of us-good or bad-what to think or believe? What is the difference between your telling the rest of us what to believe and somebody else disagreeing with you?

    I know a lot of people of all races who do not support homosexuality yet that does not make them a homophobe- many of them in the African-American and Muslim community.

    Tell you what: if you and the rest of the gay/straight/bi/tri whatever the hell else is it ya'll want to be -

    if you would take to the street to protest children who cannot read, write or count at grade level, children who have no discipline at home or in school- children having children and running and gunning in the street killing each other:

    I bet if there was a 5 million person march about those issues maybe- just maybe-
    the issues of the ignorance of non-acceptance of others not like you might fade away into a more enlightened world.

    How many presidents, engineers, doctors, layers, accountants, nurses, cops, social workers- Nobel Price winners- have been gunned down in their cribs or high chairs? or on the street?

    Welcome back Isaiah and too bad that you are not a thug/gang-banging pedophile mass-murderer for you would still have a lucrative career while spouting all kind of profane, anti-women, anti-gay opinions that would put you at the top of the charts.
  4. lgb posted on 05/02/2014 06:57 AM
    The man said the word Faggot 1 time, in a heated argument with another man. Because of that interaction (That happened on set, in private and was leaked to the press by people who just like to spread gossip) A man lost 8 years of a promising career. He said that word once, and he's turned into a leper. It's time to move on, let him come back. He's a damn good actor, let's just enjoy his performance now
    1. Futurama posted on 05/02/2014 08:52 AM
      @lgb He wasn't fired until he brought it up months later when he said "I never called TR Knight a faggot" to the press at the Golden Globes. Pretty much denying the incident ever took place. So he said the word twice really. He wouldn't have been fired if he just apologized and shut up about it.
    2. Futurama posted on 05/02/2014 09:02 AM
      @lgb Just curious if Patrick Dempsey had called Washington a nigger would there have been any controversy over firing?

      Lost 8 years? He was on The Bionic Woman not long after being fired from Grey's so it's not like Hollywood shunned him. Maybe he wasn't looking hard enough for work. It's not like he's an A lister like Denzel.

      I've been watching him on his new series The 100 and he's a competent actor but really nothing special.
showing all comments