John David Washington Became Obsessed With His Own Research For Amsterdam

In "Amsterdam," John David Washington joins an all-star cast for the first film from writer-director David O. Russell in seven years. Washington's film career has been on the rise since 2018 when he starred in Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman," but his first credited movie appearance dates back further to when he was a boy and he appeared as one of the students in a Harlem classroom in Lee's 1992 biopic "Malcolm X" (which, of course, starred Washington's own father, Denzel Washington). So it's fitting that, after leading Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" among other films, Washington should be going back to Harlem — where he got his brief acting start — with research for his role in "Amsterdam."

In "Amsterdam," Washington plays Harold Woodsman, a lawyer who falls under suspicion of murder when he and his old war buddy are spotted at the crime scene. /Film's Jeff Ewing recently attended a press conference for "Amsterdam," where Washington detailed some of the research he did into the film's 1930s time setting, saying:

"I got obsessed with it. You know, Harlem Renaissance, Charles Houston, I read his book, I was getting all this information about, you know, double victory and what it was like for African Americans to fight for this country, you know, and what it was like fighting over there, and what kind of freedoms that they had... they had more freedoms there in a lot of ways than they did in their own country. So different things like that... Amsterdam newspaper, Amsterdam newspaper's started by Black men in Harlem ... little things like that, that it may or may not make the film, but it's something that is a touchstone, it's something that you can have that you can hold on to that can inform how you listen again, how you react and respond."

'You don't get here without things starting a long time ago'

Washington refers to the "double victory," also known as the Double V campaign, which saw Black soldiers fighting for democracy overseas during World War II while simultaneously striving for equality on the home front. The campaign took its name from the "V for victory" gesture that became a rallying cry for freedom during the war. 

"Amsterdam" is set in the years leading up to the war, and in the trailer for the movie, we see a flashback where Washington's aforementioned character, Harold, shakes hands with Christian Bale's one-eyed doctor, Burt Berendsen, on the battlefield during World War I. "You don't get here without things starting a long time ago," Burt narrates, possibly alluding to larger thematic concerns concerning the modern state of the U.S. and how history has led it here. "Amsterdam" re-teams Russell with Bale after their previous collaborations on "American Hustle" and "The Fighter," the latter of which won Bale the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

The trailer notably begins with a "dead white man" in a pine box being wheeled in, with Chris Rock's character, Milton King, not far behind. "Who you think's gonna get in trouble here?" he pointedly asks Harold. There also comes a moment when Burt says in his voiceover, "We swore to protect each other, no matter what." Yet we see him and Margot Robbie's nurse, Valerie Voze, both giving a shifty look as they share a group hug with Harold. There are further hints of a greater conspiracy that "altered the course of American history," and that may involve Black history, which some would say is synonymous with American history.

You can see how this and Washington's research all play out when "Amsterdam" hits theaters exclusively on October 7, 2022.