Representation matters, and Denzel Washington doesn't dispute that. But the Oscar-winning actor has sound advice for kids and parents alike: If you're looking for real role models, turn off Netflix.
"Growing up watching people in the movies, that was great, but I couldn't reach out and touch them, like I could the leaders in my club," Washington told AOL, referring to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. An alum who grew up in the organization, Washington has been a spokesperson for 25 years this year.
"I think it's important to have positive role models on television and the like, but I think it's important to turn the television off," he continued. "And pick up a book. Or engage face-to-face, human being to human being."
Of seeing ethnic minorities properly represented in film and TV, Washington said, "I think we've made tremendous strides. [But] I think the real work is done on the grassroots level."
Denzel Washington Through the years
Denzel Washington Through the years
ST. ELSEWHERE -- ' Tweety and Ralph' Episode 8 -- Pictured: Denzel Washington as Dr. Philip Chandler (Photo by Jack Hamilton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Publicity portrait of American actor Denzel Washington in his screen debut from the film 'Carbon Copy' (Avco Embassy Pictures), 1981. (Photo by John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images)
Denzel Washington (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1990: Photo of Denzel Washington Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Denzel Washington (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
Denzel Washington and daughter during Moscow Circus Opening at The Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Denzel Washington during 62nd Annual Academy Awards at Music Center in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
Denzel Washington and Pauletta Washington during Screening of 'The Pelican Brief' at Mann's Bruin Theater in Westwood, CA, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 777 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor Denzel Washington and Jay Leno on September 28, 1995 -- (Photo by: Margaret Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Denzel Washington (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Denzel Washington talks to Ethan Hawke in a scene from the film 'Training Day', 2001. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
Publicity still of American actors Halle Berry and Denzel Washington holding their Academy Award Oscars, 2002. (Photo by John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images)
Denzel Washington accepts the award for 'Dramatic Film Actor of the Year' on the 2002 GQ Men of the Year Awards at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, October 16, 2002. Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect.
Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks during The 17th Annual American Cinematheque Award Honoring Denzel Washington - Arivals and Press Room at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA, United States. (Photo by Chris Polk/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 23: Actor Denzel Washington (L) talks with Devean Fox, son of Laker player Rick Fox, at the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Seattle Supersonics on February 23, 2003 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
Denzel Washington during A Hollwood All-Star Tribute to the NBA's Leah Wilcox at L'Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Steve Grayson/WireImage)
Denzel Washington during 19th Annual American Museum of the Moving Image Benefit - Salute to Richard Gere - Inside at Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage for NBC Universal Photo Department)
UNITED STATES - JULY 19: Denzel Washington and Kimberly Elise arrive at Clearview's Beekman theater for the world premiere of the movie 'The Manchurian Candidate.' They star in the film. (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Jodie Foster and Denzel Washington during Inside Man New York City Premiere - Inside Arrivals at Ziegfeld Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 20: (U.S. TABS OUT) Actor Denzel Washington and rapper Jay-Z appear onstage during MTV's Total Request Live at the MTV Times Square Studios on November 20, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 29: Actor Denzel Washington and his wife Pauletta Pearson arrive at an industry screening of Universal Picture's and Imagine Entertainment's 'American Gangster' at the ArcLight Cinemas on October 29, 2007 in Los Angeles. California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Director Denzel Washington and producer Oprah Winfrey at the premiere of The Great Debaters at the Arclight Theater on December 11, 2007 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
WASHINGTON - JANUARY 18: U.S. President-elect Barack Obama hug actor Denzel Washington in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 'We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial' on January 18, 2009 at the National Mall in Washington, DC. The event includes a diverse array of talent featuring both musical performances and historical readings and an appearance by U.S. President-elect Barack Obama. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
US actor Denzel Washington waves to Japanese fans during an event for his new movie 'The Taking of Pelham 123' at a subway station in Tokyo on August 20, 2009. The new film will be shown all over Japan from September 4. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 10: Actors George Lopez and Denzel Washington (R) attend the NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks on January 10, 2010 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2010 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Matt Lauer and Denzel Washington appear on NBC News' 'Today' show (Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 26: Actors Denzel Washington and Viola Davis pose for photos at the Broadway Opening Night After Party for 'Fences' at the Bryant Park Hotel on April 26, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
WESTWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 26: Actor Denzel Washington arrives at the Los Angeles Premiere 'Unstoppable' at Regency Village Theatre on October 26, 2010 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
Jennifer Lopez and Denzel Washington attend the Boys And Girls Clubs Of America Announcement With Denzel Washington And Jennifer Lopez at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on November 30, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 16: Denzel Washington speaks during the 2011 University Of Pennsylvania Commencement on May 16, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 31: Actor Denzel Washington (L) and actor Ryan Reynolds (R) attend 'El Hormiguero' TV show at Vertice 360 Studio on January 31, 2012 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 07: Denzel Washington and Pauletta Washington attend the 'Safe House' premiere at the SVA Theater on February 7, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 03: Denzel Washington attends 'A Raisin In The Sun' Broadway Opening Night after party at Tribeca Rooftop on April 3, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 19: (EDITORS NOTE: This image has been converted to black and white) Denzel Washington attends 'The Equalizer' phtocall at the Kursal during 62nd San Sebastian Film Festival on September 19, 2014 in San Sebastian, Spain. (Photo by Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 09: Actor Denzel Washington delivers the commencement address at Dillard University on May 9, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Josh Brasted/Getty Images)
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The sentiment was echoed by Malachi Haynes, who was recently chosen out of more than four million member sto serve as Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s National Youth of the Year.
"The role models I've seen at Boys & Girls Club have had a large impact on my life -- more than what I've seen on TV," Haynes said.
Washington noted he often reflects on his childhood. He keeps, he said, a particularly personal memento by his desk.
"I have a picture of us from my football team, I was about eight or nine, that I keep in my study in my office," he said. "I always look at it and just reminisce about all the guys -- in those days it was just a Boys Club -- that I grew up with and had wonderful life experiences with."