theGrio’s 100: Forest Whitaker, Hollywood icon is bankable in ‘Butler’

Forest Whitaker arrives at the premiere of the movie 'The Butler' during the 39th Deauville American Festival on August 30, 2013 in Deauville, France. (Photo by Francois Durand/Getty Images)

Forest Whitaker arrives at the premiere of the movie 'The Butler' during the 39th Deauville American Festival on August 30, 2013 in Deauville, France. (Photo by Francois Durand/Getty Images)

Who is Forest Whitaker?

Forest Whitaker, 52, is one of the most iconic actor/director/producers in Hollywood. The Oscar-winning actor has earned a reputation for bringing to life some of the most profound characters on the big screen for films such as The Last King of Scotland, Bird, Jason’s Lyric, and most recently Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

Whitaker was born in Texas and later raised in California. His father, Forest Whitaker, Jr., was an insurance salesman and his mother, Laura Francis, was a special education teacher who put herself through college and earned two Masters degrees while raising her children.

Whitaker attended California State Polytechnic University on a football scholarship but was forced to change his major to music and later drama to a debilitating back injury. He later attended the music conservatory at the University of Southern California and the Berkley California branch of the Drama Studio London.

Why is he on theGrio’s 100?

In 2013 Whitaker’s career enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence. He appeared alongside Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr. and more, playing the lead role in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. The film has become one of his greatest critical and commercial successes to date.

Whitaker spoke with theGrio about his role in The Butler and discussed some of the hot-button social issues plaguing the current generation of young black men.

“With “Stand Your Ground” laws, stop-and-frisk, and the new voting rights amendment, people have to remain vigilant and they have to recognize what’s going on,” Whitaker said. “I know people’s voices are being formed, but at least let them be formed and take a stand as to what you think, so that you can take some steps. It does not all have to be aggressive action. Some of it will be… but it can be writing a letter, it could be calling someone, setting up a town meeting, calling like ten of your friends. This movie is trying to say that, in a way.”

Last year Whitaker also starred in the film Black Nativity, alongside Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, and Jacob Latimore.

He was also 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.

What’s next for Whitaker?

On February 28th Whitaker will  appear alongside Sanaa Latha, Nicole Arie Parker and Anthony Mackie in the thriller Repentance.

Follow Forest Whitaker on Twitter @ForestWhitaker