Screen star Forest Whitaker, Best Actor Winner for his role as Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland,” was honored with a 2010 Black Perspectives Tribute at the Chicago Film Festival on Saturday, October 9th, 2010, as a Career Achievement Award Recipient.
Whitaker, only the 4th black actor to win a Best Actor Oscar (the others were Sidney Poitier, Terrence Howard, and Halle Berry) joins a long list of outstanding African American film stars similarly honored in this 46th year of the Chicago Film Festival (the longest-running film festival in North America) in this 14th year of the Black Perspective Tribute.
As he journeyed down the red carpet, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Whitaker, shake his hand, congratulate him, and ask him a few questions. I naturally asked him what his next project was, and he replied that he is working on a film about Louis Armstrong and has just released a project with Bruce Willis.
Since Whitaker’s early collegiate education came on a scholarship awarded him for classical voice at the University of Southern California, and he also learned to play the saxophone to play Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood’s film “Bird,” the project sounds like a logical fit. Not only does Whitaker act, he also produces, writes and directs. Whitaker has a record label at Sony and Executive and produced 2 albums that garnered 14 Grammy nominations. He also has received many humanitarian awards, 3 Honorary Doctorates (North Carolina School of the Arts, Manhattanville College, and Xavier University)and, in 2009, he was given a chieftancy title from the Igbo Tribe of Nicwerre in Nigeria.
I knew that Mr. Whitaker had studied Swahili extensively in preparation for filming “The Last King of Scotland,” and asked him to give me a word in Swahili, which he obligingly did. He mentioned that he was just back from El Salvador and will soon be going to India for UNESCO, as his humanitarian works have earned him many awards, including those for his work with Penny Lane, an organization that provides assistance to abused teenagers.
Among Forest Whitaker’s films are “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Good Morning Vietnam,” “Phenomenon,” “Pret-a-Porter,” “A Rage in Harlem,” “Platoon,” “Panic Room,” “Bird,” “The Crying Game,” “Ghost Dog,” “The Way of the Samurai,” “The Great Debaters,” and “The Last King of Scotland,” for which he won the 2007 Academy Award.
On the red carpet, Whitaker told me, “It feels great to be honored. People have to look at your body of work. You work hard, but you never know how people are going to take it.” During his career, Whitaker has won 18 Critics’ Awards and been nominated for 50 others, including winning Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a Bafta, a SAG award, an Image award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (April, 2007).
As the 2010 Black Perspective Award winner of the silver Cleo, Whitaker joins such distinguished black filmmakers and actors as: Spike Lee (1999); Pam Grier (1998); Morgan Freeman (1999); Laurence Fishbourne and Hill Harper (2000); Halle Berry (2001); Charles Dutton (2002); Taye Diggs (2003); Irma P. Hall, Harry J. Lennix, and Robert Townsend (2004); Terrence Howard, Andre Benjamin and Melvin Van Peebles (2005); Ruby Dee (2006); Jeffrey Wright (2007); Jennifer Hudson and Sidney Poitier (2008); and Lee Daniels and Gabourey Sidibe (2009).
(Source:2010 Black Perspectives Tribute Award Program at the Chase Auditorium in Chicago on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010).