Forest Whitaker

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Forest Whitaker
Forest Whitaker 2014.jpg
Whitaker at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival
BornForest Steven Whitaker III
(1961-07-15) July 15, 1961 (age 53)
Longview, Texas, U.S.
Alma materCal Poly Pomona, University of Southern California, Drama Studio London, New York University
OccupationActor, producer, director
Years active1982–present
Spouse(s)Keisha Nash (m. 1996)
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For the Brother Ali song, see Shadows on the Sun.
Forest Whitaker
Forest Whitaker 2014.jpg
Whitaker at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival
BornForest Steven Whitaker III
(1961-07-15) July 15, 1961 (age 53)
Longview, Texas, U.S.
Alma materCal Poly Pomona, University of Southern California, Drama Studio London, New York University
OccupationActor, producer, director
Years active1982–present
Spouse(s)Keisha Nash (m. 1996)

Forest Steven Whitaker III (born July 15, 1961) is an American actor, producer, and director.

He has earned a reputation for intensive character study work for films such as Lee Daniels' The Butler, Bird and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai,[1][2] for his work in direct-to-video films and for his recurring role as LAPD Internal Affairs Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh on the award-winning television series The Shield.[3]

Whitaker won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for his performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland.

Early life[edit]

Whitaker was born in Longview, Texas. His family moved to Carson, California when he was four.[4] His father, Forest Steven Jr., was an insurance salesman; his paternal grandfather was Forest Steven Sr. Forest's mother, Laura Francis (née Smith), was a special education teacher who put herself through college and earned two Masters degrees while raising her children.[5][6] Whitaker has two younger brothers, Kenn and Damon, and an older sister, Deborah.

His first role as an actor was the lead in Dylan Thomas' play, Under Milk Wood.[4]

Whitaker then attended Cal Poly Pomona[7] on a football scholarship, but due to a debilitating back injury, he changed his major to music (voice). He toured England with the Cal Poly Chamber Singers in 1980. While still at Cal Poly, he briefly changed his major to drama. He was accepted to the Music Conservatory at the University of Southern California to study opera as a tenor, and subsequently was accepted into the University's Drama Conservatory.[6] He graduated from USC in 1982. He also earned a scholarship to the Berkeley, California branch of the Drama Studio London.[8] Whitaker also pursued a degree in The Core of Conflict: Studies in Peace and Reconciliation at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study.[9]


Film work[edit]

Whitaker has a long history of working with well-regarded film directors and fellow actors, as well as working in direct-to-video films alongside novice actors such as Lil Wayne, Maggie Grace and 50 Cent. In his first solo onscreen performance of note, he had a small role playing a high school football player in the 1982 film version of Cameron Crowe's coming-of-age teen-retrospective, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.[6] He co-starred and interacted alongside Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Sean Penn and Robert Romanus. In 1986, he appeared in Martin Scorsese's film, The Color of Money (with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise), and in Oliver Stone's Platoon. The following year, he co-starred with Robin Williams in the comedy Good Morning, Vietnam.

In 1988, Whitaker played in the film Bloodsport alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme and he had his first lead role starring as musician Charlie Parker in the Clint Eastwood-directed film, Bird. To prepare himself for the part, he sequestered himself in a loft with only a bed, couch, and saxophone,[1] having also conducted extensive research and taken alto sax lessons.[10] His performance, which has been called "transcendent,"[3] earned him the Best Actor award at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival[11] and a Golden Globe nomination. Whitaker continued to work with a number of well-known directors throughout the 1990s. He starred in the 1990 film Downtown with Anthony Edwards and Penelope Ann Miller. Neil Jordan cast him in the pivotal role of "Jody", a captive British soldier in his 1992 film, The Crying Game where Whitaker used an English accent. Todd McCarthy, of Variety, described Whitaker's performance as "big-hearted," "hugely emotional," and "simply terrific."[12] In 1994, he was a member of the cast that won the first ever National Board of Review Award for Best Acting by an Ensemble for Robert Altman's film, Prêt-à-Porter. He gave a "characteristically emotional performance"[13] in Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's 1995 film, Smoke.

Whitaker as the assassin, Ghost Dog, 2000

Whitaker played a serene, pigeon-raising, bushido-following, mob hit man in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, a 1999 film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Many consider this to have been a "definitive role" for Whitaker.[3] In a manner similar to his preparation for Bird, he again immersed himself in his character's world—he studied Eastern philosophy and meditated for long hours "to hone his inner spiritual hitman."[1] Jarmusch has told interviewers that he developed the title character with Whitaker in mind; the New York Times review of the film observed that "[I]t's hard to think of another actor who could play a cold-blooded killer with such warmth and humanity."[14]

Whitaker next appeared in what has been called one of the worst films ever made,[15] the 2000 production of Battlefield Earth, based on the novel of the same name by L. Ron Hubbard. The film was widely criticized as a notorious commercial and critical disaster.[15][16] However, Whitaker's performance was lauded by the film's director, Roger Christian, who commented that, "Everybody's going to be very surprised" by Whitaker, who "found this huge voice and laugh."[17] Battlefield Earth won seven Razzie Awards; Whitaker was nominated for Worst Supporting Actor, but lost to his co-star, Barry Pepper.[18] Whitaker later expressed his regret for participating in the film.[19]

In 2001, Whitaker had a small, uncredited role in the Wong Kar-wai-directed The Follow, one of five short films produced by BMW that year to promote its cars.[20] He co-starred in Joel Schumacher's 2002 thriller, Phone Booth, with Kiefer Sutherland and Colin Farrell. That year, he also co-starred with Jodie Foster in Panic Room. His performance as the film's "bad guy" was described as "a subtle chemistry of aggression and empathy."[4]

Whitaker as General Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, 2006

Whitaker's 2006 portrayal of Idi Amin in the film, The Last King of Scotland earned him positive reviews by critics as well as multiple awards and honors.[21][22] To portray the dictator, Whitaker gained 50 pounds, learned to play the accordion, and immersed himself in research.[23] He read books about Amin, watched news and documentary footage featuring Amin, and spent time in Uganda meeting with Amin's friends, relatives, generals, and victims; he also learned Swahili and mastered Amin's East African accent.[1] His performance earned him the 2007 Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, making him the fourth African-American actor in history to do so, joining the ranks of Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, and Jamie Foxx.[24] For that same role, he was also recognized with a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award, BAFTA Award, and accolades from the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the National Board of Review, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association among others.[25]

In 2007, Whitaker played Dr. James Farmer Sr. in The Great Debaters, for which he received an Image Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor.[26] In 2008, Whitaker appeared in three films, first as a business man known only as Happiness, who likes butterflies, in the film The Air I Breathe. He also portrayed a rogue police captain in Street Kings, and a heroic tourist in Vantage Point.

In 2013, after languishing in several direct-to-DVD movies such as Freelancers and Pawn, Whitaker has enjoyed a bit of career resurgence, having played the lead role in Lee Daniels' The Butler, which has become one of his greatest critical and commercial successes to date.[27][28]

Whitaker also starred in the film Black Nativity, alongside Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, and Jacob Latimore. He also co-starred with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2013's The Last Stand, playing an FBI agent chasing an escaped drug cartel leader.

Television work[edit]

After completing several films in the early 1980s, Whitaker gained additional roles in multiple television shows. On the series, Diff'rent Strokes, he played a bully in the 1985 episode "Bully for Arnold".[29] That same year, Whitaker also played the part of a comic book salesman in the Amazing Stories episode "Gather Ye Acorns".[30] He appeared in the first and second parts of North and South in 1985 and 1986. Throughout the 1990s, Whitaker mainly had roles in television films, including Criminal Justice, The Enemy Within, and Witness Protection.

From 2002 to 2003, Whitaker was the host and narrator of 44 new episodes of the Rod Serling classic, The Twilight Zone, which lasted one season on UPN.[31] After working in several film roles, he returned to television in 2006 when he joined the cast of FX's police serial The Shield, as Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh, who was determined to prove that the lead character, Vic Mackey, is a dirty cop. As opposed to his previous character work, Whitaker stated that he merely had to draw on his childhood years growing up in South Central Los Angeles for the role.[3] He received rave reviews for his performance—Variety called it a "crackling-good guest stint"[32]—and he reprised the role in the show's 2007 season.

In the fall of 2006, Whitaker started a multi-episode story arc on ER as Curtis Ames, a man who comes into the ER with a cough, but quickly faces the long-term consequences of a paralyzing stroke; he then takes out his anger on Doctors Luka Kovač and Abby Lockhart. Whitaker received a 2007 Emmy Award nomination for his performance on the series.[33] Also in 2006, Whitaker appeared in T.I.'s music video "Live in the Sky" alongside Jamie Foxx.[34]

Whitaker was cast in the Criminal Minds spin-off, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, that was subsequently cancelled by CBS on May 17, 2011.[35]

Producing and directing[edit]

Whitaker branched out into producing and directing in the 1990s. He co-produced and co-starred in A Rage in Harlem in 1991. He made his directorial debut with a grim film about inner-city gun violence, Strapped, for HBO in 1993. In 1995, he directed his first feature, Waiting to Exhale, which was based on the Terry McMillan novel of the same name. Roger Ebert observed that the tone of the film resembled Whitaker's own acting style: "measured, serene, confident."[36] Whitaker also directed co-star Whitney Houston's music video of the movie's theme song, "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)".

Whitaker continued his directing career with the 1998 romantic comedy, Hope Floats, starring Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick, Jr. He directed Katie Holmes in the romantic comedy, First Daughter in 2004; he had co-starred with Holmes in Phone Booth in 2002. Whitaker served as an executive producer on First Daughter. He had previously gained experience as the executive producer of several made-for-television movies, most notably the 2002 Emmy-award winning Door to Door, starring William H. Macy. He produced these projects through his production company, Spirit Dance Entertainment, which he shut down in 2005 to concentrate on his acting career.[3][10]

Whitaker was one of the producers of the film Fruitvale Station, which won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.[37]

JuntoBox Films[edit]

Whitaker plays an active role as co-chair of JuntoBox Films since his initial involvement as co-chair with the collaborative film studio starting in March 2012.[38] JuntoBox was developed as a social-media platform for filmmakers and fans to share ideas to create films and then collaborate to make them. Since Whitaker joined as co-chair, five projects have been greenlit for production.[39]


In addition to the numerous awards Whitaker won for his performance in The Last King of Scotland, he has also received several other honors. In September 2006, the 10th Annual Hollywood Film Festival presented him with its "Hollywood Actor of the Year Award," calling him "one of Hollywood's most accomplished actors."[40] He was honored at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2007, where he received the American Riviera Award.[41]

Previously, in 2005, the Deauville (France) Festival of American Film paid tribute to him.[42] Whitaker was the recipient of the 2,335th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 16, 2007.[43][44] He received an Honorary Degree from Xavier University of Louisiana in 2009 at the 82nd Commencement Ceremony.[45] He has also produced Monte Carlo.

Personal life[edit]

Whitaker presenting the film My Own Love Song in Paris, 2010.

In 1996, Whitaker married actress Keisha Nash, whom he met on the set of Blown Away.[2] The Whitakers have four children: two daughters together (Sonnet and True), and his son (Ocean) and her daughter (Autumn) from previous relationships. On Inside the Actors Studio, Whitaker said that a genetic test indicated he was of Igbo descent through his patrilineal line, and of Akan descent through his matrilineal line.[46]

Whitaker studies yoga and has a black belt in kenpō.[2] He also trains in the Filipino martial art of Kali, under Dan Inosanto.

Whitaker's left eye ptosis has been called "intriguing" by some critics[47] and "gives him a lazy, contemplative look."[48] Whitaker has explained that the condition is hereditary and that he has considered having surgery to correct it, not for cosmetic reasons but because it affects his vision.[49]


Charity work[edit]

Whitaker, who is a vegetarian,[2] recorded a public service announcement with his daughter, True, promoting vegetarianism on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).[50] He is also a supporter and public advocate for Hope North, a boarding school and vocational training center in northern Uganda for escaped child soldiers, orphans, and other young victims of the country's civil war.[51]


Whitaker at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

In politics, Whitaker supported and spoke on behalf of Senator Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign.[52] On April 6, 2009, he was given a chieftaincy title in Imo State, Nigeria. Whitaker, who was named a chief among the Igbo community of Nkwerre, was given the title Nwannedinamba of Nkwerre, which means A Brother in a Foreign Land.

Whitaker was inducted as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation, in a ceremony at UNESCO headquarters on June 21, 2011. As Goodwill Ambassador, Whitaker works with UNESCO to support and develop initiatives that empower youths and keep them from entering or remaining in cycles of violence. At the induction ceremony, U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO David Killion described Whitaker as a "perfect choice as a Goodwill Ambassador...He has exemplified compassion in every area of his life, with humility and grace. He does this because it's the right thing to do."[53]

In May 2011, Whitaker co-founded with Dr. Aldo Civico the International Institute for Peace (IIP) at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. Launched during the international Newark Peace Education Summit, IIP’s mission is to develop programs and strategic partnerships to address cutting-edge issues such as increasing citizen security through community-building; the role of women and spiritual and religious leaders in peace-building; the impact of climate change; and the reduction of poverty. Whitaker serves as chairman of IIP while Civico, who teaches sociology and anthropology at Rutgers-Newark, is the director. IIP operates under the auspices of UNESCO as a Category 2 Center.


1982Tag: The Assassination GameGowdy's Bodyguard
Fast Times at Ridgemont HighCharles Jefferson
1985Vision QuestBalldozer
North and SouthCuffey
1986Color of Money, TheThe Color of MoneyAmos
North and South, Book IICuffey
PlatoonBig Harold
1987StakeoutJack Pismo
Good Morning, VietnamEdward Garlick
1988BirdCharlie 'Bird' ParkerCannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
1989Johnny HandsomeDr. Steven Fisher
1990DowntownDennis Curren
1991Diary of a HitmanDekker
Rage in Harlem, AA Rage in HarlemJackson
1992Article 99Dr. Sid Handleman
Crying Game, TheThe Crying GameJody
Consenting AdultsDavid Duttonville
1993Bank RobberOfficer Battle
Body SnatchersMajor Collins
1994Blown AwayAnthony Franklin
Prêt-à-PorterCy BiancoNational Board of Review Award for Best Cast
Jason's LyricMaddog
1995SpeciesDan Smithson, Empath
SmokeCyrus Cole
1996PhenomenonNate PopeBlockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Supporting Actor - Drama
Nominated — NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
1998Body CountCrane
1999Ghost Dog: The Way of the SamuraiGhost Dog
Light It UpOfficer Dante Jackson
Witness ProtectionUS Marshal Steven Beck
2000Battlefield EarthKerNominated — Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor
Four Dogs Playing PokerMr. Ellington
2001Fourth Angel, TheThe Fourth AngelAgent Jules Bernard
The Hire: The FollowThe Employeruncredited
Green DragonAddie
2002Panic RoomBurnhamNominated — Black Reel Award for Best Supporting Actor
Phone BoothCaptain Ed RameyTheatrical release was delayed due to the Beltway sniper attacks in October 2002.[54]
Nominated — Black Reel Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated — NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
2004First DaughterNarratoralso directed
2005Little Trip to Heaven, AA Little Trip to HeavenAbe Holt
American GunCarterNominated — Independent Spirit Award for Best Lead Male
MaryTed Younger
2006Even MoneyClyde Snow
The MarshGeoffrey Hunt
Everyone's HeroLonnie Brewster (voice)
Last King of Scotland, TheThe Last King of ScotlandIdi AminAcademy Award for Best Actor
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
BET Award for Best Actor
Black Reel Award for Best Actor
Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor
Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
Hollywood Film Award for Actor of the Year
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor
London Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
National Board of Review Award for Best Actor
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor
Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor
Satellite Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Southeastern Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association for Best Actor
Nominated — BIFA Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a British Independent Film
Nominated — Toronto Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
2007Air I Breathe, TheThe Air I BreatheHappiness
Ripple EffectPhilip
Great Debaters, TheThe Great DebatersJames L. Farmer, Sr.Nominated — NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
2008Vantage PointHoward Lewis
Street KingsCapt. Jack Wander
Dragon HuntersLian Chu (voice — English version)
2009Powder BlueCharlie
Winged CreaturesCharlie Archenault
Where the Wild Things AreIra (voice)Nominated — Black Reel Award for Best Voice Performance
Lullaby for PiGeorge
Hurricane SeasonAl Collins
2010Repo MenJake Freivald
My Own Love SongJoey
Experiment, TheThe ExperimentBarris
Our Family WeddingBradford Boyd
2011Catch .44Ronny
2012FreelancersDennis LaRue
A Dark TruthFrancisco Francis
2013The Last StandAgent John Bannister
ZuluAli Sokhela
The ButlerCecil GainesAfrican-American Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
Pending — Alliance of Women Film Journalists Award for Best Ensemble Cast
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
Nominated — Satellite Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture
Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Black NativityReverend Cornell
Out of the FurnaceWesley Barnes
Ernest & CelestineErnest (voice)
2014Repentance[55]Angel Sanchez
2015Two Men in TownWilliam GarnettPost-production
Taken 3Franck DotzlerFilming
SouthpawTitus "Tick" WillsFilming
1995Waiting to Exhale
1998Hope FloatsNominated — Black Film Award for Best Director
2004First Daughter
1982Making The GradeEpisode "Marriage David Style"
1983Cagney & LaceyNight ManagerEpisode "The Grandest Jewel Thief of Them All"
1984Trapper John, M.D.Lewis JordanEpisode "School Nurse"
1984Hill Street BluesFloyd GreenEpisode "Blues for Mr. Green"
1985Diff'rent StrokesHermanEpisode "Bully for Arnold"
1985Grand Baby, TheThe Grand BabyTelevision movie
1985Fall Guy, TheThe Fall GuyFriendEpisode "Spring Break"
1986Amazing StoriesJerryEpisode "Gather Ye Acorns"
1987Hands of a StrangerSergeant DelaneyTelevision movie
1990Criminal JusticeJessie WilliamsTelevision movie
1993Lush LifeBuddy ChesterTelevision movie
1993Last LightFred WhitmoreTelevision movie
Nominated — CableACE Award for Actor in a Movie or Miniseries
1994Enemy Within, TheThe Enemy WithinColonel MacKenzie 'Mac' CaseyTelevision movie
Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie
1996Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat" ManigaultMr. RuckerTelevision movie
1999Witness ProtectionSteven BeckTelevision movie
2001Feast of All SaintsDaguerreotypist PicardTelevision movie
2003Deacons for DefenseMarcus ClayTelevision movie
Black Reel Award for Best Actor: T.V. Movie/Cable
Nominated — NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie
Twilight Zone, TheThe Twilight ZoneHost / Narrator44 episodes
ERCurtis Ames6 episodes
Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series
The ShieldLieutenant Jon Kavanaugh(Seasons 5 and 6)
Nominated — Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
American Dad!Daniel Turlington3 episodes
2010Criminal MindsSam CooperEpisode "The Fight"
2011Criminal Minds: Suspect BehaviorSam CooperSpin-off
2013AfricaNarratorDocumentary Series


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  50. ^ PSA for PETA PETA TV.
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  55. ^ "REPENTANCE - IN THEATERS FEBRUARY 28, 2014". Retrieved 2014-02-08. 

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