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Whitaker, Forest

Forest Whitaker

1961—

Actor, director, producer

Tall and heavyset, with a round face and a drooping left eyelid—the result of a congenital condition—Forest Whitaker might be Hollywood's most unconventional-looking leading man. He is definitely one of the hardest-working actors in Hollywood, renowned for his intense preparation for his roles and for alternating between lead and supporting roles in both television and film. He has also worked on the other side of the camera, directing and producing feature films. As an actor, Whitaker is best known for his work in historical dramas—as the jazz virtuoso Charlie Parker in the film Bird and Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, a role that made him just the fourth African American to win the Academy Award for best actor in a leading role.

Whitaker was born on July 15, 1961, in Longview, Texas, but grew up in Carson and Los Angeles, California. The oldest of three children of an insurance salesman and a special education teacher, Whitaker attended Palisades High School in Los Angeles, where he was a good student and an All-League defensive back in football. He earned a sports scholarship to California State University at Pomona and became a drama and music major. Eventually, though, he felt that his singing talent would be better cultivated at the University of Southern California, and he transferred there to study voice.

Although he was an aspiring opera tenor, stage work proved tempting, and Whitaker began appearing in local equity productions in Southern California. "I was probably going to go to New York and work on stage and that was it," he recalled to the Associated Press. "It just so happens I was working on a play and it turned into an opportunity to do a film." Since 1982 Whitaker has worked regularly in the movies, going from project to project and working his way from the ranks of the "extras" to the very best roles.

Landed Roles in Motion Pictures

Whitaker earned his first substantial role in 1982's well-received teen film titled Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The actor's size and robust build helped him land the part of a tough guy whose cherished car gets trashed. That essentially comic role was followed by more important, serious ones; in The Color of Money, for example, Whitaker appeared as a pool shark who tries to beat the best players in the game. Although he was on screen only briefly, Whitaker studied the nuances of pool intensively for weeks in order to perfect his moves and timing. As a result, observed Robert Wheaton in Ebony, "his one-scene cameo … almost stole the show from high-powered stars Paul Newman and Tom Cruise." Whitaker's performance in The Color of Money brought him to the attention of director Barry Levinson, who gave the actor a substantial part in the big-budget Good Morning, Vietnam. Whitaker was particularly pleased with that opportunity, because the part was not originally written for a black actor; he later portrayed another character intended for a white actor in Johnny Handsome. For all of these roles, Whitaker did homework—in the form of reading and interviews—in order to assure that his performance would be realistic.

Whitaker put his greatest energy into researching the life of Charlie "Yardbird" Parker—the jazz giant who helped to launch the bebop era—for his lead role in Clint Eastwood's Bird, a film treatment of Parker's life. In order to ensure he would be believable as a saxophone player, Whitaker took horn lessons and talked to numerous people who knew Parker during the years before the famous musician died an early, drug-related death. Whitaker even interviewed recovering heroin addicts in an effort to better understand the effects of drug abuse and dependency. "The research took on a very large scope," he remarked in Ebony. "I would wake up so depressed some mornings that I would really begin to understand why Charlie Parker tried to kill himself and why he took drugs. He led a very hard life, and it took quite a while to shake his thoughts from my head." Whitaker's portrayal of Parker in Bird won the young actor the top award at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival. Jet correspondent Lou Ransom declared that the role was "the crowning achievement in Whitaker's career, which has shown remarkable success." And Wheaton in Ebony suggested that Whitaker's performance was "exceptional, the kind of acting that makes a star. He lets the late jazzman's self-destructive streak come through but also shows us Parker's charm and intelligence."

The success of Bird proved that Whitaker could handle a lead role, and throughout the 1990s he received leads interspersed with his usual supporting roles. In the 1991 comedy-drama A Rage in Harlem, Whitaker was cast as the protagonist, supported by the more famous African-American actors Gregory Hines and Danny Glover. In 1992 he had the honor of being the only American cast in Neil Jordan's Irish Republican Army epic The Crying Game. Later in the decade, famed independent film director Jim Jarmush wrote the film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai specifically for Whitaker to play the lead. As Jarmush told Joshua Klein for A. V. Club in 2000: "If I had written this whole thing and [Whitaker had] said, ‘You know what, I can't do this,’ I would have either had to start all over … or chucked the project and gone on to something else because, to me, it's that important."

Became a Producer and Director

Whitaker also began directing films in the early 1990s. His directing debut was in 1993 with Strapped, an original film for HBO for which he won the International Critics' Award for best new director at the Toronto Film Festival in 1993. He has also directed such feature films asWaiting to Exhale in 1995, Hope Floats in 1998, and First Daughter in 2004.

At a Glance …

Born on July 15, 1961, in Longview, TX; son of Forest (an insurance salesman) and Laura (a special education teacher) Whitaker; married Keisha Nash, 1996; children: four. Education: Attended California State Polytechnic University and University of Southern California.

Career: Actor appearing on stage and in feature films and television, beginning in 1981; film and television director and producer; established Spirit Dance Entertainment.

Selected awards: Cannes Film Festival Award for best actor, 1988, for Bird; International Critics' Award for best new director, Toronto Film Festival, 1993, for Strapped; Emmy Award for best made-for-television movie, 2003, for Door to Door; New York Film Critics Circle Award for best actor and Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for best actor, both 2006, Golden Globe Award for best lead actor in a motion picture drama, London Critics' Circle Actor of the Year Award, Screen Actors Guild Award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a leading role, British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for best lead actor, NAACP Image Award for outstanding actor in a motion picture, and Academy Award for best actor in a lead role, all 2007, all for The Last King of Scotland; Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 2007.

Addresses: Agent—S.T.E. Representation, 9301 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 312, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

To support his television and filmmaking efforts, Whitaker established his own multimedia company called Spirit Dance Entertainment, based in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The company is involved with film, television, and music production, and in London it serves to mentor black and Asian filmmakers. In 2001 Whitaker produced his first feature film through Spirit Dance, Green Dragon. Soon, his television work was winning awards; with Whitaker as co-executive producer, Door to Door, a made-for-television movie about a man's efforts to become a successful salesman despite his cerebral palsy, won an Emmy Award in 2003. Whitaker also served as a consulting producer and host of the cable television revival of The Twilight Zone.

Whitaker's television efforts as an actor also earned plaudits. The 2003 made-for-television movie Deacons for Defense received good reviews and several award nominations for Whitaker's strong performance as the leader of a militant black group dedicated to protecting civil rights workers and protesters in Louisiana in the 1960s. Whitaker also received acclaim for extended guest-starring roles in the television series ER and The Shield.

Earned Highest Honors as Actor

Though he enjoyed success with his television work, Whitaker's greatest triumph would come with his return to the big screen, in 2006 with his performance in The Last King of Scotland. In the film, Whitaker used his imposing physique to inhabit the role of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. It was a role that required intense preparation: "First of all [in Los Angeles] I started learning Swahili, learning the accent, then I had to study all the recording[s] as well as all the books, tapes, and documentaries" about Amin, Whitaker told Paul Fischer for Dark Horizons. After arriving on location in Uganda, he continued his research while working on the film, taking trips to places where Amin lived and worked and interviewing friends and family members. During shooting, Whitaker remained in character constantly, speaking in Amin's accent even when he was not working on the set.

The hard work paid dividends beyond anyone's imagination: Whitaker's performance was one for the ages, and the actor took home virtually every major acting award in the United States and Britain, including the Golden Globe for best lead actor in a motion picture drama; the London Critics' Circle Actor of the Year Award; the NAACP Image Award for outstanding actor in a motion picture; as well as best actor awards from the Screen Actors Guild, the New York and Los Angeles film critics, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscars).

Despite all the accolades, when Whitaker received his Oscar, he admitted feeling a little overwhelmed. In his acceptance speech, as quoted by NPR, the actor said: "When I was a kid, the only way that I saw movies was from the backseat of my family's car at the drive-in. And it wasn't my reality to think I would be acting in movies. So receiving this honor tonight tells me that it's possible. It is possible for a kid from East Texas, raised in South Central L.A., in Carson, who believes in his dreams, commits himself to them with his heart, to touch them and to have them happen."

Remained a "Reluctant Star"

Despite The Last King of Scotland's success, Whitaker continued to perform the supporting roles that were his bread and butter over his twenty-six-year film career. He was nominated for a NAACP Image Award for his supporting role in the period drama The Great Debaters starring Denzel Washington, and he appeared in the presidential thriller Vantage Point. In April of 2007 Whitaker was honored for his career accomplishments with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Whitaker lives quietly in Los Angeles near his retired parents. He remains devoted to music, especially singing and playing the saxophone, and has been writing screenplays to support his own productions. Married in 1996, Whitaker is rarely seen on the Hollywood party scene—he shuns the limelight whenever possible. Ebony contributor Rhoda E. McKinney once noted that despite his hard work and success, "Whitaker is truly a reluctant star. He is a humble man who shies from excess and pretense." Pressed about his views in Ebony, the star would only reply: "I hope through my work to help people understand themselves and others better."

Selected works

Television; actor (except where noted)

Criminal Justice, 1990.

Last Light, 1993.

Lush Life, 1993.

(Director) Strapped, 1993.

The Enemy Within, 1994.

Witness Protection, 1999.

(Co-executive producer) Door to Door, 2002.

Deacons for Defense, 2003.

(And consulting producer) The Twilight Zone, 2002-03.

ER, 2006-07.

The Shield, 2006-07.

Films; actor (except where noted)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982.

Platoon, 1986.

Stakeout, 1987.

Good Morning, Vietnam, 1987.

Bird, 1988.

Bloodsport, 1988.

Johnny Handsome, 1989.

Downtown, 1990.

Diary of a Hitman, 1991.

A Rage in Harlem, 1991.

Article 99, 1992.

The Crying Game, 1992.

Consenting Adults, 1992.

Body Snatchers, 1993.

Bank Robber, 1993.

Blown Away, 1994.

Jason's Lyric, 1994.

Ready to Wear, 1994.

(Director) Waiting to Exhale, 1995.

Smoke, 1995.

Species, 1995.

Phenomenon, 1996.

Body Count, 1998.

(Director) Hope Floats, 1998.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, 1999.

Light It Up, 1999.

Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000, 2000.

Four Dogs Playing Poker, 2000.

(And executive producer) Green Dragon, 2001.

The Hire: The Follow, 2001.

The Fourth Angel, 2001.

Panic Room, 2002.

Phone Booth, 2002.

Jiminy Glick in Lalawood, 2004.

(And director and executive producer) First Daughter, 2004.

(And executive producer) American Gun, 2005.

Mary, 2005.

The Last King of Scotland, 2006.

Even Money, 2007.

The Great Debaters, 2007.

The Air I Breathe, 2007.

Vantage Point, 2008.

Sources

Periodicals

Associated Press wire reports, October 16, 1988; September 6, 1990; May 5, 1991.

Business Wire, January 15, 2004.

Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1988; May 3, 1991.

Daily News (Los Angeles), May 7, 1991.

Ebony, October 1988; November 1988.

Jet, November 7, 1988.

Journal and Constitution (Atlanta, GA), November 5, 1988.

Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1991.

New York Times, May 24, 1988; September 11, 1988; May 3, 1991.

Phoenix Gazette, June 8, 1991.

Post and Courier (Charleston, SC), March 6, 2003.

Washington Post, August 2, 1990; May 3, 1991.

Online

Del Barco, Madalit, "Scorcese, ‘Departed’ Grab Top Oscars," Morning Edition, NPR, February 26, 2007, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7599142 (accessed April 15, 2008).

Fischer, Paul, "Exclusive Interview: Forest Whitaker for ‘The Last King of Scotland,’" Dark Horizons, September 24, 2006, http://www.darkhorizons.com/news06/whitaker.php (accessed April 15, 2008).

"How Whitaker's Dreams ‘Came True,’" BBC News, February 26, 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/6396177.stm (accessed April 15, 2008).

Klein, Joshua, "Interviews: Jim Jarmusch," A. V. Club, March 15, 2000, http://www.avclub.com/content/node/22886 (accessed April 15, 2008).

—Mark Kram, Sara Pendergast,
and Derek Jacques

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"Whitaker, Forest." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Whitaker, Forest." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/whitaker-forest-0

Whitaker, Forest

Forest Whitaker

1961

Actor, director, producer

"A burly, good-natured Texan, soft-spoken and a little shy, Forest Whitaker doesn't exactly stand out in a crowd," wrote Associated Press correspondent Jay Sharbutt. "But in Hollywood, where unemployment is the rule, not the exception, he does OK." Whitaker, an award-winning actor, has graduated from important cameo roles to leading parts in major films. Not only has he won roles created specifically for a black actorincluding jazz legend Charlie Parker in Bird he has also received the opportunity to portray characters originally written for white actors. Whitaker commented to the Associated Press on his extraordinary range of roles: "I only care about doing characters I can grow from, someone I can learn from, people I can find some truth in. If I can do that, I can be happy."

As much as possible, Whitaker avoids the prying eyes of the Hollywood press. He grants interviews reluctantly and says little about his personal life or his work in the film industry. The actor explained in Ebony that the publicity surrounding his recent starring roles has proven difficult for him to accept. "I really appreciate that people enjoy my work, but most of my life has been in the background," he said. "I'm really just a normal guy, hanging out trying to live my life. I appreciate the attention and I am growing to understand it and deal with it better, but I would prefer to walk around in total obscurity."

It may be too late for Whitaker to return to the anonymity he longs for, but he zealously guards what privacy is left by offering few details about his childhood or formative years. He was born July 15, 1961, in Longview, Texas, but grew up in Carson and Los Angeles, California. The oldest of three children of an insurance salesman and a special education teacher, Whitaker attended Palisades High School in Los Angeles, where he was a good student and an All-League defensive back in football. He earned a sports scholarship to California State University at Pomona and became a drama and music major. Eventually, though, he felt that his singing talent would be better cultivated at the University of Southern California, and he transferred there to study voice.

Stage work proved tempting, however, and Whitaker began appearing in local equity productions in Southern California. "I was probably going to go to New York and work on stage and that was it," he recalled to the Associated Press. "It just so happens I was working on a play and it turned into an opportunity to do a film." Since 1982 Whitaker has worked regularly in the movies, going from project to project and working his way from the ranks of the "extras" to the very best roles.

In 1982 Whitaker earned his first substantial role in a well-received teen film titled Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The actor's size and robust build helped him land the part of a tough guy whose cherished car gets trashed. That essentially comic role was followed by more important, serious ones; in The Color of Money, for example, Whitaker appeared as a pool shark who tries to beat the best players in the game. Although he was on screen only briefly, Whitaker studied the nuances of pool for months in order to perfect his moves and timing. As a result, observed Robert Wheaton in Ebony, "his one-scene cameoalmost stole the show from high-powered stars Paul Newman and Tom Cruise." Whitaker's performance in The Color of Money brought him to the attention of director Barry Levinson, who gave the actor a substantial part in the big-budget Good Morning, Vietnam. Whitaker was particularly pleased with that opportunity, because the part was not originally written for a black actor; he later portrayed another character intended for a white actor in Johnny Handsome. For all of these roles, Whitaker has done homeworkin the form of reading and interviewsin order to assure that his performance would be realistic.

Whitaker put his greatest energy into researching the life of Charlie "Yardbird" Parkerthe jazz giant who helped to launch the be-bop erafor his lead role in Clint Eastwood's Bird, a film treatment of Parker's life. In order to ensure he would be believable as a saxophone player, Whitaker took horn lessons and talked to numerous people who knew Parker during the years before the famous musician died an early, drug-related death. Whitaker even interviewed recovering heroin addicts in an effort to better understand the effects of drug abuse and dependency. "The research took on a very large scope," he remarked in Ebony. "I would wake up so depressed some mornings that I would really begin to understand why Charlie Parker tried to kill himself and why he took drugs. He led a very hard life, and it took quite a while to shake his thoughts from my head." Whitaker's portrayal of Parker in Bird won the young actor the top award at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival. Jet correspondent Lou Ransom declared that the role was "the crowning achievement in Whitaker's career, which has shown remarkable success." And Wheaton suggested that Whitaker's performance was "exceptional, the kind of acting that makes a star. He lets the late jazzman's self-destructive streak come through but also shows us Parker's charm and intelligence."

The success of Bird proved that Whitaker could handle a principal role. He has been busy ever since, acting in films such as Diary of a Hitman and Article 99. He also took on the task of producing several films. In A Rage in Harlem a 1991 comedy-drama that he also co-producedWhitaker played a mild-mannered accountant who falls hopelessly in love with a worldly songstress and subsequently becomes embroiled in danger when he seeks to save her from a sordid scheme involving stolen gold. The actor pointed out to the Associated Press that the film "takes on a kind of fable quality. It's really about being able to believe in something and not be changed and structured by the world, being true to yourself." A Rage in Harlem, which was shot in Cincinnati, Ohio, also featured Gregory Hines, Danny Glover, and Robin Givens.

Whitaker took on the challenge of assuming the role of Joe Louisthe heavyweight boxer who won a world championship against Germany's Max Schmeling in 1938. In order to prepare for this portrayal, Whitaker went into a gym and worked with boxing trainers. The actor expressed in the Los Angeles Daily News that he is particularly excited about the opportunity to play Louis. "I love boxing," he said. "Joe Louis was the beginning. He gave pride to the black community." More than that, the actor added, "Joe Louis united the country."

At a Glance

Born on July 15, 1961, in Longview, TX; son of Forest Jr. (in insurance sales) and Laura (a special education teacher) Whitaker; married Keisha Whitaker, 1996; children: two. Education : Attended California State Polytechnic University and University of Southern California.

Career: Actor on stage and in feature films, 1981.

Awards: Cannes Film Festival award for best actor, 1988, for Bird; International Critics' Award for best new director, Toronto Film Festival, 1993; Emmy award for best Made for Television Move, for Door to Door, 2003.

Addresses: Agent David Eidenberg, S.T.E. Representation, 9301 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 312, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

Whitaker also began directing films in the early 1990s. His directing debut was in 1993 with Strapped, an original film for HBO, for which he won the International Critics' Award for best new director at the Toronto Film Festival in 1993. He has also directed such feature films as Waiting to Exhale in 1995, Hope Floats in 1998, and First Daughter in 2004.

To support his efforts, Whitaker established his own multimedia company called Spirit Dance Entertainment. Based in both the United States and the United Kingdom, Spirit Dance Entertainment, includes film, television, and music production. In London, the company mentors black and Asian filmmakers. His work continued to earn acclaim throughout the industry. In 2001 Whitaker produced his first feature film through Spirit Dance, Green Dragon. Soon, his television efforts were winning awards; Door to Door, a made for television movie about a man's efforts to become a successful salesman despite his cerebral palsy, won an Emmy award in 2003. In 2004, Whitaker was one of the first two directors selected for the First Amendment Project, a collaboration between the Sundance Channel and Court TV. For the project, Whitaker will direct a film that will portray an aspect of the First Amendment in a creative, fresh, innovative way.

Whitaker lives quietly in Los Angeles near his retired parents. He remains devoted to music, especially singing and playing the saxophone, and has been writing screenplays to support his own productions. Married in 1996, Whitaker is rarely seen on the Hollywood party scenehe shuns the limelight whenever possible. Ebony contributor Rhoda E. McKinney noted that despite his hard work and success, "Whitaker is truly a reluctant star. He is a humble man who shies from excess and pretense." Pressed about his views in Ebony, the star would only reply: "I hope through my work to help people understand themselves and others better."

Selected works

Films

Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982.

Platoon, 1986.

Stakeout, 1987.

Good Morning, Vietnam, 1987.

Bird, 1988.

Bloodsport, 1988.

Johnny Handsome, 1989.

Downtown, 1990.

Diary of a Hitman, 1991.

A Rage in Harlem, 1991.

Article 99, 1992.

The Crying Game, 1992.

Consenting Adults, 1992.

Body Snatchers, 1993.

Bank Robber, 1993.

Blown Away, 1994.

Jason's Lyric, 1994.

Ready to Wear, 1994.

Smoke, 1995.

Species, 1995.

Phenomenon, 1996.

Body Count, 1998.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, 1999.

Light It Up, 1999.

Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000, 2000.

Four Dogs Playing Poker, 2000.

Green Dragon, 2001.

The Hire: The Follow, 2001.

The Fourth Angel, 2001.

Panic Room, 2002.

Phone Booth, 2002.

Jiminy Glick in La La Wood, 2004.

First Daughter, 2004.

Sources

Periodicals

Associated Press wire reports, October 16, 1988; September 6, 1990; May 5, 1991.

Business Wire, January 15, 2004.

Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1988; May 3, 1991.

Daily News (Los Angeles), May 7, 1991.

Ebony, October 1988; November 1988.

Jet, November 7, 1988.

Journal and Constitution (Atlanta), November 5, 1988.

Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1991.

New York Times, May 24, 1988; September 11, 1988; May 3, 1991.

Phoenix Gazette, June 8, 1991.

Post and Courier (Charleston, SC), March 6, 2003.

Washington Post, August 2, 1990; May 3, 1991.

Mark Kram and

Sara Pendergast

Cite this article
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"Whitaker, Forest." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Whitaker, Forest." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/whitaker-forest

"Whitaker, Forest." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/whitaker-forest

Whitaker, Forest 1961–

WHITAKER, Forest 1961

PERSONAL

Full name, Forest Steven Whitaker; born July 15, 1961, in Longview, TX; son of Forest, Jr. (in insurance sales) and Laura (a special education teacher) Whitaker; brother of Damon Whitaker and Kenn Whitaker (actors); married Keisha Simone Nash (a model and actress), May 4, 1996; children: (with Nash) Sonnet Noel, True Isabella Summer, Autumn (stepdaughter); Ocean Alexander, Denzel (an actor). Education: Attended California State Polytechnic Institute and University of Southern California; trained at Drama Studio London, Berkeley Branch, Berkeley, CA. Avocational Interests: Singing, playing the saxophone, reading philosophy.

Addresses: Office Spirit Dance Entertainment, 1023 North Orange Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90038. Agent Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Publicist Heidi Slan, PMK/HBH, 8500 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 700, Beverly Hills, CA 90211.

Career: Actor, director, and producer. Spirit Dance Entertainment, Los Angeles, principal. Involved with charitable projects, such as serving as an honorary board member of Penny Lane, an organization helping abused teenagers; affiliated with 4D All Stars (a mentoring program) and Watts Cinema Project.

Awards, Honors: Cannes International Film Festival Award, best actor, 1988, Sant Jordi Award, best foreign actor, 1989, and Golden Globe Award nomination, best performance by an actor in a motion picture drama, 1989, all for Bird; International Critics' Award, Toronto International Film Festival, best new director, and nomination for Critics Award, Deauville International Film Festival, both 1993, for "Strapped," HBO Showcase; National Board of Review Award (with others), best ensemble performance, 1994, for PretaPorter; Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, outstanding performance by a male actor in a television movie or miniseries, 1995, for The Enemy Within; Blockbuster Entertainment Award, favorite supporting actordrama, and Image Award nomination, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, outstanding supporting actor in a motion picture, both 1997, for Phenomenon; Black Film Award nomination, Acapulco Black Film Festival, best director, 1999, for Hope Floats; Black Reel Award nomination, best supporting actor in a theatrical film, 2003, for Panic Room; Emmy Award (with others), outstanding made for television movie, 2003, for Door to Door; Black Reel Award, best television actor, Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, outstanding performance by a male actor in a television movie or miniseries, and Image Award nomination, outstanding actor in a television movie, miniseries, or dramatic special, all 2004, for Deacons for Defense; Image Award nomination, outstanding supporting actor in a motion picture, and Black Reel Award nomination, best supporting actor in a film, 2004, for Phone Booth.

CREDITS

Film Appearances:

Charles Jefferson, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Universal, 1982.

Gowdy's bodyguard, Tag: The Assassination Game (also known as Everybody Gets It in the End, Kiss Me, Kill Me, and T.A.G.: The Assassination Game ), 1982.

Bulldozer, Vision Quest (also known as Crazy for You ), Warner Bros., 1985.

Amos, The Color of Money, Buena Vista, 1986.

Big Harold, Platoon, Orion, 1986.

Edward Montesque Garlick, Good Morning, Vietnam, Buena Vista, 1987.

Jack Pismo, Stakeout, Buena Vista, 1987.

Charlie "Bird" Parker, Bird, Warner Bros., 1988.

Rawlins, Bloodsport, Cannon, 1988.

Dr. Steven Resher (some sources cite Steven Fisher), Johnny Handsome, TriStar, 1989.

Dennis Curren, Downtown, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1990.

Jackson, A Rage in Harlem, Miramax, 1991.

David Duttonville, Consenting Adults, Buena Vista, 1992.

Dekker, Diary of a Hitman, Vision International, 1992.

Dr. Sid Handleman, Article 99, Orion, 1992.

Jody, The Crying Game, Miramax, 1992.

Officer Battle, Bank Robber, IRS Releasing, 1993.

Anthony Franklin, Blown Away, MetroGoldwynMayer, 1994.

Cy Bianco, PretaPorter (also known as PretaPorter: Ready to Wear and Ready to Wear ), Miramax, 1994.

Maddog, Jason's Lyric, Gramercy, 1994.

Major Collins (a doctor), Body Snatchers, Warner Bros., 1994.

Cyrus Cole, Smoke (also known as SmokeRaucher unter sich ), Miramax, 1995.

Dan Smithson, Species, MetroGoldwynMayer/United Artists, 1995.

Nate Pope, Phenomenon, Buena Vista, 1996.

Crane, Body Count, 1998.

Officer Dante Jackson, Light It Up, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1999.

Ghost Dog, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (also known as Ghost DogDer Weg des Samurai and Ghost Dog, la voie du samourai ), Artisan Entertainment, 2000.

Ker, Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 (also known as Battlefield: Earth ), Warner Bros., 2000.

Mr. Ellington, Four Dogs Playing Poker, 2000.

Agent Jules Bernard, The Fourth Angel (also known as Vengeance secrete ), Artisan Entertainment, 2001.

(Uncredited) The Hire: The Follow, BMW Films, 2001.

Addie, Green Dragon, Silver Nitrate Films, 2002.

Burnham, Panic Room, Columbia, 2002.

Captain Ramey, Phone Booth, Twentieth CenturyFox, 2003.

Himself, American Storytellers, Indican Pictures, 2003.

Himself, The Making of "Invasion of the Freedom Snatchers," Behind the Scenes Productions, 2003.

Himself, In Search of Ted Demme, IFC Films, 2004.

American Gun, IFC Films, c. 2005.

Film Director:

Waiting to Exhale, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1995.

Hope Floats, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1998.

First Daughter, Twentieth CenturyFox, 2004.

Film Executive Producer:

Green Dragon, Silver Nitrate Films, 2002.

First Daughter, Twentieth CenturyFox, 2004.

Film Producer:

(With others) A Rage in Harlem, Miramax, 1991.

Chasing Papi, Twentieth CenturyFox, 2003.

Film Soundtrack Executive Producer:

Waiting to Exhale, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1995.

Hope Floats, Twentieth CenturyFox, 1998.

Television Appearances; Series:

Host, The Twilight Zone, UPN, 20022003.

Television Appearances; Miniseries:

Cuffey, North and South, ABC, 1985.

Cuffey, North and South, Book II, ABC, 1986.

Sergeant Delaney, Hands of a Stranger, CBS, 1987.

Daguerreotypist Picard, Feast of All Saints (also known as Anne Rice's The Feast of All Saints ), ABC, 2001.

Television Appearances; Movies:

Jesse Williams, "Criminal Justice," HBO Showcase, HBO, 1990.

Fred Whitmore, Last Light, Showtime, 1993.

Buddy Chester, Lush Life, Showtime, 1994.

Colonel MacKenzie "Mac" Casey, The Enemy Within, HBO, 1994.

Holcolm Rucker, Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat " Manigault (also known as Angel of Harlem and Rebound ), HBO, 1996.

Crane, The Split (also known as Body Count ), The Movie Channel, 1998.

U.S. Marshal Steven "Steve" Beck, Witness Protection, HBO, 1999.

Marcus Clay, Deacons for Defense, Showtime, 2003.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Himself, "Clint Eastwood: Out of the Shadows," American Masters, PBS, 2000.

Himself, The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 2000.

Himself, The Making of "Panic Room," 2002.

Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:

Himself, The 21st Annual NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1989.

Himself, American Film Institute Salute to Clint Eastwood, ABC, 1996.

Himself, The 27th Annual NAACP Image Awards, 1996.

Himself, Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, UPN, 1997.

Presenter, The 15th Annual IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards, Bravo and Independent Film Channel, 2000.

(Uncredited) Presenter, The 2001 IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards (also known as The 16th Annual IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards ), Independent Film Channel, 2001.

Himself, The 30th Annual People's Choice Awards, 2004.

Himself, The 35th Annual NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2004.

Presenter, 2004 IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards, Bravo, 2004.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Making the Grade, CBS, 1982.

Floyd Green, "Blues for Mr. Green," Hill Street Blues, NBC, 1984.

Lewis Jordan, "School Nurse," Trapper John, M.D., CBS, 1984.

Herman, "Bully for Arnold," Diff'rent Strokes, NBC, 1985.

"Spring Break," The Fall Guy, ABC, 1985.

Cagney and Lacey, CBS, 1985.

Jerry, "Gather Ye Acorns," Amazing Stories, NBC, 1986.

Harris, He's the Mayor, ABC, 1986.

ABC in Concert, ABC, c. 1991.

Himself, "Clint EastwoodThe Man from Malpaso," Crazy about the Movies, Cinemax, 1993.

Himself, Intimate Portrait: Lela Rochon Fuqua (also known as Intimate Portrait: Lela Rochon ), Lifetime, 2001.

Himself, "John Travolta," Biography, Arts and Entertainment, 2003.

Himself, The Wayne Brady Show, syndicated, 2004.

Television Appearances; Other:

The Grand Baby, 1985.

Television Work; Movies:

Director, "Strapped," HBO Showcase, HBO, 1993.

Coexecutive producer, Door to Door, TNT, 2002.

Television Work; Other:

Director and executive producer, Black Jaq (pilot), ABC, 1998.

Executive producer, Feast of All Saints (miniseries; also known as Anne Rice's The Feast of All Saints ), ABC, 2001.

Stage Appearances:

Appeared in Craig's Wife, The Greeks, Hamlet, Ring around the Moon, Romeo and Juliet, and Whose Life Is It Anyway?, all Drama Studio London; in Swan, Drama Studio London, Inner City Cultural Center, Los Angeles; in Patchwork Shakespeare, California Youth Theatre; in School Talk, Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles; and in Beggar's Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Stage Director:

Drums across the Realm, 1986.

Also directed a production of Look Back in Anger.

RECORDINGS

Videos:

(And in archive footage) Himself, Battlefield Earth: Evolution & Creation, Warner Home Video, 2000.

(And in archive footage) Himself, A Tour of the Inferno: Revisiting "Platoon," MetroGoldwynMayer/United Artists Home Entertainment, 2001.

Himself, Shooting "Panic Room," Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment, 2004.

Video Executive Producer:

The Making of "Green Dragon," Columbia/TriStar Home Video, 2002.

Music Video Director:

"Thanks for My Child," by Cheryl Pepsii Riley, 1989.

"Exhale (Shoop Shoop)," by Whitney Houston, 1995.

"Goodbye," by Jagged Edge, 2001.

Director of music videos by Low Key, Soula, and MC Supreme.

OTHER SOURCES

Books:

Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 2, Gale, 1992.

Periodicals:

Biography, September, 2002.

Black Men, July, 2000, pp. 5859.

Ebony, April, 1995.

Interview, June, 1998, p. 28.

Jet, December 14, 1998, p. 33.

Los Angeles Times, May 24, 1998.

Movieline, December, 1996; May, 1998, pp. 7679.

New York Post, December 11, 1999.

New York Times, August 17, 1993.

People Weekly, June 1, 1998, p. 31.

Playboy, March, 1992, pp. 14044.

Premiere, September, 2000, p. 86.

Yolk, January, 2002, pp. 2426, 63.

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"Whitaker, Forest 1961–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Whitaker, Forest 1961–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/whitaker-forest-1961-0

"Whitaker, Forest 1961–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/whitaker-forest-1961-0

Whitaker, Forest 1961–

Forest Whitaker 1961

Actor

At a Glance

Bird Became a Big Break

The Rewardsand Drawbacksof Fame

Sources

A burly, good-natured Texan, soft-spoken and a little shy, Forest Whitaker doesnt exactly stand out in a crowd, wrote Associated Press correspondent Jay Sharbutt. But in Hollywood, where unemployment is the rule, not the exception, he does OK. Whitaker, an award-winning actor, has graduated from important cameo roles to leading parts in major films. Not only has he won roles created specifically for a black actorincluding jazz legend Charlie Parker in Bird he has also received the opportunity to portray characters originally written for white actors. Whitaker commented to the Associated Press on his extraordinary range of roles: I only care about doing characters I can grow from, someone I can learn from, people I can find some truth in. If I can do that, I can be happy.

As much as possible, Whitaker avoids the prying eyes of the Hollywood press. He grants interviews reluctantly and says little about his personal life or his work in the film industry. The actor explained in Ebony that the publicity surrounding his recent starring roles has proven difficult for him to accept. I really appreciate that people enjoy my work, but most of my life has been in the background, he said. Im really just a normal guy, hanging out trying to live my life. I appreciate the attention and I am growing to understand it and deal with it better, but I would prefer to walk around in total obscurity.

It may be too late for Whitaker to return to the anonymity he longs for, but he zealously guards what privacy is left by offering few details about his childhood or formative years. He was born July 15, 1961, in Longview, Texas, but grew up in Carson and Los Angeles, California. The oldest of three children of an insurance salesman and a special education teacher, Whitaker attended Palisades High School in Los Angeles, where he was a good student and an All-League defensive back in football. He earned a sports scholarship to California State University at Pomona and became a drama and music major. Eventually, though, he felt that his singing talent would be better cultivated at the University of Southern California, and he transferred there to study voice.

Stage work proved tempting, however, and Whitaker began appearing in local equity productions in Southern California. I was probably going to go to New York and

At a Glance

Born July 15, 1961 in Longview, TX; son of Forest Jr. (in insurance sales) and Laura (a special education teacher) Whitaker. Education: Attended California State Polytechnic University and University of Southern California.

Actor on stage and in feature films, 1981. Principal film appearances include Fast Times at Ridgemont High; The Color of Money; Johnny Handsome; Platoon; Good Morning, Vietnam; Bird; A Rage in Harlem; Hitman; Criminal Justice; and Article 99.

Selected awards: Cannes Film Festival award for best actor, 1988, for Bird.

Addresses: Agent David Eidenberg, S.T.E. Representation, 9301 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 312, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

work on stage and that was it, he recalled to the Associated Press. It just so happens I was working on a play and it turned into an opportunity to do a film. Since 1982 Whitaker has worked regularly in the movies, going from project to project and working his way from the ranks of the extras to the very best roles.

In 1982 Whitaker earned his first substantial role in a well-received teen film titled Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The actors size and robust build helped him land the part of a tough guy whose cherished car gets trashed. That essentially comic role was followed by more important, serious ones; in The Color of Money, for example, Whitaker appeared as a pool shark who tries to beat the best players in the game. Although he was on screen only briefly, Whitaker studied the nuances of pool for months in order to perfect his moves and timing. As a result, observed Robert Wheaton in Ebony, his one-scene cameo almost stole the show from high-powered stars Paul Newman and Tom Cruise.

Whitakers performance in The Color of Money brought him to the attention of director Barry Levinson, who gave the actor a substantial part in the big-budget Good Morning, Vietnam. Whitaker was particularly pleased with that opportunity, because the part was not originally written for a black actor; he later portrayed another character intended for a white actor in Johnny Handsome. For all of these roles, Whitaker has done homeworkin the form of reading and interviewsin order to assure that his performance would be realistic.

Bird Became a Big Break

Whitaker put his greatest energy into researching the life of Charlie Yardbird Parkerthe jazz giant who helped to launch the be-bop erafor his lead role in Clint Eastwoods Bird, a film treatment of Parkers life. In order to ensure he would be believable as a saxophone player, Whitaker took horn lessons and talked to numerous people who knew Parker during the years before the famous musician died an early, drug-related death. Whitaker even interviewed recovering heroin addicts in an effort to better understand the effects of drug abuse and dependency. The research took on a very large scope, he remarked Ebony. I would wake up so depressed some mornings that I would really begin to understand why Charlie Parker tried to kill himself and why he took drugs. He led a very hard life, and it took quite a while to shake his thoughts from my head.

Whitakers portrayal of Parker in Bird won the young actor the top award at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival. Jet correspondent Lou Ransom declared that the role was the crowning achievement in Whitakers career, which has shown remarkable success. And Wheaton suggested that Whitakers performance was exceptional, the kind of acting that makes a star. He lets the late jazzmans self-destructive streak come through but also shows us Parkers charm and intelligence.

The success of Bird proved that Whitaker could handle a principal role. He has been busy ever since, acting in films such as Criminal Justice, Hitman, and Article 99. In Criminal Justice, for instance, he appeared as an ex-con wrongfully accused of robbing a prostitute. Once again Whitaker did extensive research for the movie, even spending some time behind bars and wading through the lengthy court procedures in the criminal justice system.

Next, in A Rage in Harlem a comedy-drama that he also coproducedWhitaker played a mild-mannered accountant who falls hopelessly in love with a worldly songstress and subsequently becomes embroiled in danger when he seeks to save her from a sordid scheme involving stolen gold. The actor pointed out to the Associated Press that the film takes on a kind of fable quality. Its really about being able to believe in something and not be changed and structured by the world, being true to yourself. A Rage in Harlem, which was shot in Cincinnati, Ohio, also featured Gregory Hines, Danny Glover, and Robin Givens.

The Rewardsand Drawbacksof Fame

Whitaker has taken on another challenge in assuming the role of Joe Louisthe heavyweight boxer who won a world championship against Germanys Max Schmeling in 1938. In order to prepare for this portrayal, Whitaker went into a gym and worked with boxing trainers. The actor expressed in the Los Angeles Daily News that he is particularly excited about the opportunity to play Louis. I love boxing, he said. Joe Louis was the beginning. He gave pride to the black community. More than that, the actor added, Joe Louis united the country.

Whitaker lives quietly in Los Angeles near his retired parents. He is still devoted to music, especially singing and playing the saxophone, and has been writing screenplays, hoping to mount his own production. Still single, Whitaker is rarely seen on the Hollywood party scenehe shuns the limelight whenever possible. Ebony contributor Rhoda E. McKinney noted that despite his hard work and success, Whitaker is truly a reluctant star. He is a humble man who shies from excess and pretense. Pressed about his views in Ebony, the star would only reply: I hope through my work to help people understand themselves and others better.

Sources

Periodicals

Associated Press wire reports, October 16, 1988; September 6, 1990; May 5, 1991.

Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1988; May 3, 1991.

Daily News (Los Angeles), May 7, 1991.

Ebony, October 1988; November 1988.

Jet, November 7, 1988.

Journal and Constitution (Atlanta), November 5, 1988.

Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1991.

New York Times, May 24, 1988; September 11, 1988; May 3, 1991.

Phoenix Gazette, June 8, 1991.

Washington Post, August 2, 1990; May 3, 1991.

Mark Kram

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Whitaker, Forest

WHITAKER, Forest


Nationality: American. Born: Longview, Texas, 15 July 1961. Education: Attended Pomona College; studied voice and theater at the University of Southern California; attended the Drama School in Berkeley, California. Family: Married Keisha Simone Nash, 1996; has son from a previous relationship and one daughter born 1996. Career: Acted on the stage in the United States and England, early 1980s; made his screen debut in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982; appeared in the TV mini-series North and South, 1985; appeared in the TV mini-series North and South II, 1986; had his first notable starring role in Bird, 1988; made his directorial debut with Strapped, 1993; directed Whiteny Houston's "Exhale (Shoop, Shoop)" music video, 1995. Awards: Cannes Film Festival Best Actor, for Bird, 1988. Address: 6409 Flagmore Place, Los Angeles, CA 90068, U.S.A.


Films as Actor:

1982

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Heckerling) (as Charles Jefferson); Tag: The Assassination Game (Castle) (as Gowdy's bodyguard)

1985

Vision Quest (Becker) (as Bulldozer)

1986

Platoon (Oliver Stone) (as Big Harold); The Color of Money (Scorsese) (as Amos)

1987

Stakeout (Badham) (as Jack Pismo); Good Morning, Vietnam (Levinson) (as Edward Garlick): Hands of a Stranger (Elikann—for TV) (as Sergeant Delaney); Bloodsport (Arnold) (as Rawlins)

1988

Bird (Eastwood) (as Charlie Parker)

1989

Johnny Handsome (Walter Hill) (as Dr. Steven Fisher)

1990

Downtown (Richard Benjamin) (as Dennis Curren); Criminal Justice (Wolk—for TV) (as Jessie Williams)

1991

A Rage in Harlem (Duke) (as Jackson)

1992

Article 99 (Deutch) (as Dr. Sid Handleman); Consenting Adults (Pakula) (as David Duttonville); The Crying Game (Neil Jordan) (as Jody); Diary of a Hit Man (London) (as Dekker)

1993

Bank Robber (Mead) (as Officer Battle); Lush Life (Elias) (as Buddy Chester); Last Light (Kiefer Sutherland—for TV) (as Fred Whitmore); Body Snatchers (Ferrara) (as Major Collins)

1994

Blown Away (Stephen Hopkins) (as Anthony Franklin); Jason's Lyric (McHenry) (as Maddog); Ready to Wear (Prêta-Porter) (Altman) (as Cy Bianco); The Enemy Within (Darby—for TV) (as Col. Mac Casey)

1995

Smoke (Wang) (as Cyrus Cole); Species (Donaldson) (as Dan Smithson)

1996

Phenomenon (Turteltaub) (as Nate Pope); Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat" Manigault (Eriq La Salle—for TV) (as Mr. Rucker)

1998

The Split (Body Count) (Patton-Spruill) (as Crane)

1999

Four Dogs Playing Poker (Rachman) (as Mr. Ellington); Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jarmusch) (as Ghost Dog); Light it Up (Bolotin) (as Officer Dante Jackson); Witness Protection (Pearce—for TV) (as Steven Beck)

2000

Battlefield Earth (Christian) (as Ker); American Storytellers (Mukherji) (doc) (as himself)



Films as Director:

1993

Strapped (for TV)

1995

Waiting to Exhale

1998

Black Jaq (for TV) (+ exec pr); Hope Floats (+ exec pr, mus)



Publications


By WHITAKER: article—

Interview with K. Cook, in Playboy (Chicago), March 1992.

On WHITAKER: articles—

Lindsay, Robert, "Living the Part: Young Man with a Sax," in New York Times Magazine, 11 September 1988.

Wheaton, Robert, and Martha Southgate, "About People: Forest Whitaker," in Essence (New York), October 1988.

"Forest Fire," in Vanity Fair (New York), November 1988.

McKinney, Rhoda E., "Forest Whitaker: Bird Reborn," in Ebony (Chicago), November 1988.

"Films and Jazz: Black Notes," in Nation (New York), 12 November 1988.

Benedetti, S., "Forest Whitaker," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), November 1991.

Weinraub, Bernard, "Switching to a New Camera Angle," in New York Times, 17 August 1993.

Grant, James, "One Quiet Man, One Booming Career," in Los Angeles Times, 30 June 1994.

Chambers, Veronica, "The Camera Has 2 Sides," in New York Times, 16 August 1995.

"Cinema: His Brilliant Career," in Advocate (Los Angeles), 12 December 1995.

Lantos, J., "Seeing the Forest Through the Tazoom," in Movieline (Los Angeles), December 1996.

Rebello, Stephen, "Deep Forest," in Movieline (Los Angeles), May 1998.


* * *

Because of his looks—he is round-faced, and on the chubby side—Forest Whitaker never will be mistaken for Denzel Washington or Wesley Snipes, and never will be a leading man. But he is an outstanding character actor, always interesting to watch, and he brings appropriate energy and vitality to all of his films. From the earliest stages of his career, he proved he could create an impression even when cast opposite strong, scene-stealing performers. This is exemplified by his appearance with Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam. Williams, playing the smart-mouthed, delightfully profane military disc jockey Adrian Cronauer, could have been the entire show. But Whitaker, cast as Cronauer's sidekick, has enough of a presence not to be obliterated by Williams's manic charisma.

The actor earned major stardom playing jazz legend Charlie "Yardbird" Parker in the Clint Eastwood-directed biopic, Bird. Whitaker's performance blends seamlessly into Eastwood's story of the legendary, innovative bebop saxophonist. His bulky build and wide smile allowed him to physically resemble his subject, and his generous performance added immeasurably to Eastwood's compassionate, lovingly detailed portrait of Parker. Whitaker was to go on to play another jazz musician in Lush Life: a trumpeter named Buddy Chester who, unlike Parker, is an obscure session man, and who discovers he has a fatal brain tumor.

Whitaker has played both leading and supporting roles, characters running the gamut from hero to heavy, sweet and soft-spoken to vicious and hard-bitten. He has been a sympathetic grunt, fighting the Vietnam war (in Platoon); a solitary, melancholy cop who has seen too much of the streets (Downtown); an ingenuous mamma's boy who foolishly perceives of himself as the defender of a beautiful woman (A Rage in Harlem); a flamingly gay fashion designer (Ready to Wear); and a hired killer, on his last assignment before retirement, whose victim persuades him to pardon her (Diary of a Hitman). He has played embittered men who are violent and ill-fated (the Vietnam veteran in Jason's Lyric), and embittered men who have come to accept their lives and fates (the one-armed gas station owner/guilty father in Smoke). In the latter film, Whitaker is at his best in a monologue in which his character reveals how he came to lose his arm. He crashed his car while "filled with spirits," resulting in the death of his beloved. He survived, but not with his body completely intact—a fact which serves as an everyday reminder of what a "mean bastard" he really is.

One of Whitaker's most overlooked performances came in The Crying Game, in which he is cast as Jody, a British soldier kidnapped by Irish Republican Army terrorists. Fellow cast-members Stephen Rea, Miranda Richardson, and Jaye Davidson may have earned the headlines, but Whitaker—playing a character who is murdered scant minutes into the story—makes Jody deeply human, effectively conveying the man's innermost fears as he barters for his life. The actor also offered an assured, carefully modulated performance in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, conveying a quiet authority as a solitary contract killer who has adapted the disciplines and codes of the samurai.

In 1993, Whitaker made his directorial debut with the made-for-television feature Strapped, the devastating account of Diquan (Bokeem Woodbine), an otherwise thoughtful black teen who has grown up in a Brooklyn housing project. He deeply loves his pregnant girlfriend, and is willing to take on the responsibilities of fatherhood. But how can he support a family on the $4.35 an hour he earns as a bicycle messenger? When the pressures of the ghetto begin to close in on him, Diquan feels he must do whatever is necessary to support his family, even if it means marketing illegal firearms and becoming a police stoolie. Strapped is an uncompromising portrait of urban decay. Primarily, it works as an exacting example of how government bureaucracy and varying state laws make guns as easy to acquire in America as bubble gum at a corner candy store.

Strapped is a film with which Whitaker should forever be proud. And it was not his sole directorial effort, as it served as a calling card for theatrical feature work. He has helmed two to date. The first is Waiting to Exhale, also a narrative about the African-American experience. Based on the best-selling novel by Terry McMillan, it is the story of four black women who establish a camaraderie while seeking love, esteem, and harmony in their lives. His follow-up, Hope Floats, charts the plight of a former high school beauty queen who revisits her past upon breaking up with her unfaithful husband and returning to her Texas hometown. At its core, Waiting to Exhale is a predictable soap opera, while Hope Floats is a so-so romantic comedy. Yet both are inventively directed, with Whitaker adding nice visual touches which transcend his material.

—Rob Edelman

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