Washington was raised in the Toluca Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, the son of actor Denzel Washington and actress Pauletta Washington (née Pearson); he is the oldest of their four children. At the age of nine, he appeared as a student in a Harlem classroom in Spike Lee's 1992 feature film Malcolm X, which starred Washington's father in the title role.
In September of 2017, Washington was cast as the lead, real life detective Ron Stallworth, in Spike Lee's thriller BlacKkKlansman. The film competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where it premiered on May 14. It did not win the Palme d'Or, but was awarded the Grand Prix by the festival jury. The film began a U.S. theatrical release on August 10, 2018, a date chosen to coincide with the one year anniversary of the Charlottesville rally.
In 2018, Washington also starred in the films Monsters and Men and Monster, both of which screened in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. That year, he is also slated to appear in The Old Man and the Gun, opposite Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Tom Waits, and Sissy Spacek. The film is scheduled to be released on September 28, 2018, by Fox Searchlight Pictures.