A mountain. Forest Whitaker, from the top of his eighty-eight meter, commands respect. And it’s not because he received the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of the bloodthirsty president of Uganda from 1971 to 1979 Idi Amin Dada in The Last King of Scotland in 2006 that the 60-year-old American actor stops time when he walks into a room. Whitaker is one of those who said he was simply charismatic. However, it is difficult to imagine that the person who received an honorary Palme d’or on the sidelines of the opening ceremony was, in 1988, a young and frail artist who was both naive and candid.
By receiving the prize for interpretation in birda film by Clint Eastwood in which he became saxophonist Charlie Parker, Forest Whitaker discovers another world. “Bird changed my life, I was a child at the time, I had never really done a Festival or given an interview, everything was so new to me and suddenly I had the right to present as an artist. It’s like a gift”he rewinds in his voice that oscillates between whispering and murmuring.
“When Thierry Fremaux called me to give me this honorary award, I was very touched”, engages the Texan that nothing seemed to predestine to be a regular guest at the Festival. His mother is a special education teacher and his father sells insurance. As a kid, Whitaker never goes to the movies. His family does not have the means to pay him the famous sesame, so the troupe is content with drive-ins. It was only later, as a student, that he discovered the magic of the seventh art.
From football to drama
While he dreams of being an American football player, he branches off, due to injury, towards singing and drama. A radical change in his life that will open the doors to the prestigious University of Berkeley. The following? A golden career that sees him play for Martin Scorsese (The color of money), Oliver Stone (Platoon), Barry Levinson (Good Morning, Vietnam), Clint Eastwood (bird) but above all its iconic role in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai by Jim Jarmusch, selected in official competition at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.
Since then, Whitaker dabbles in everything, wins an Oscar – in 2006 – and invites himself into the worlds Star Wars and Marvel. Above all, the native of Longview understands that to convey messages, he must go through the production box. Thus, in 2013 his film fruitvale station directed by Ryan Coogler is echoed during the selection In some perspective and walks away with the Future Prize. It is also at the head of a new production that he came to the Croisette. In his footsteps, two Frenchmen – Christophe Castagne and Thomas Sametin – who, for six years, walked the dangerous roads of Sudan for the good of their film For the sake of peacescreened at Cannes yesterday.
We started working for Forest’s NGO with a series of portraits of peacemakers and then Forest offered us to make a real documentary.
A film that owes a lot to Whitaker’s civic engagement. UNESCO’s special envoy for peace and reconciliation, he took the opportunity to create the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI), an association that works to help the youngest in countries plagued by conflict, particularly in Sudan, and tries to train former child soldiers and orphans to become peace mediators for their communities. A setting that allowed the two Frenchmen to meet Forest Whitaker and, one thing led to another, to produce a film to bear witness to the drama unfolding in Sudan.
“We started working for Forest’s NGO with a series of portraits of peacemakers and then Forest offered us to make a real documentary, he is a man of cinema, of peace”, explains Christophe Castagne. Whitaker is like that, he uses his Hollywood aura to move the lines. Before coming to the Cannes red carpet, he met with elected officials from Seine-Saint-Denis, the poorest department in France, in order to engage with young people to, in particular, offer them training in careers. ‘coming. “I wanted to have a positive impact, to help the community”he says simply.
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Cannes 2022: Honorary Palme d’Or, Forest Whitaker is a man of heart