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Actor, producer and director Forest Whitaker won an Academy Award for his portrayal of dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. He's also known for films like Bird, Ghost Dog and The Butler.
Idi Amin - Mini Biography (3:36)
Actor Forest Whitaker recounts the importance of Martin Luther King’s legacy and his personal feelings about the civil rights activist.
An inside look at Wil Haygood's new book "The Butler." Video courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
Idi Amin joined the King's African Rifles in 1946 and soon developed a bad reputation for his treatment of detainees. He staged a military coup in 1971. As President of Uganda, his brutality made many consider him the "Butcher of Uganda."
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Born on July 15, 1961, in Longview, Texas, Forest Whitaker was a college football player who turned to studying opera and drama. His first big-screen feature was Fast Times at Ridgemont High and he has subsequently created a prolific acting career, with roles in films like Platoon, Bird, Ready to Wear and Ghost Dog. Whitaker, who's also a producer and director,
"...the advice I remember the most was from my mom. She said, 'Believe in something, no matter what.' She told me that, when I had a purpose, I should follow it."
"When I follow and go through a character, I'm searching for those things that connect me to him, me, personally. I think that when I look at the world, I'm looking also for those connections. I'm looking at connectivity of how we can exist together in a humane and a positive way on this planet, and how we can uplift each other."
won an Oscar for portraying Idi Amin in 2006’s The Last King of Scotland.
Actor, director and producer Forest Steven Whitaker was born on July 15, 1961, in Longview, Texas, with his family later moving to Southern California. Whitaker was a star quarterback in high school and won a scholarship to play at California State Polytechnic University. After being sidelined with an injury, he transferred to the University of Southern California to study opera and drama.
Whitaker made his feature film debut in 1982's seminal teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, with Nicolas Cage and Sean Penn. The versatile actor appeared in several acclaimed films throughout the '80s, including Platoon (1986), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) and The Color of Money (1986). In 1988, his turn as musician Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood's dark biopic Bird won him the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. More and more on-screen projects continued for Whitaker throughout the '90s and early '00s with films like Robert Altman's Ready to Wear (1994), Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (2000) and David Fincher’s Panic Room (2002), co-starring Jodi Foster.
Whitaker soon expanded to producing and directing, having particular success in television with such projects as 1993's gritty urban film Strapped for HBO and 2002's Emmy-winning Door to Door starring William H. Macy. He also directed for the big screen; his films include 1995's Waiting to Exhale, an adaptation of the Terry McMillan novel that starred Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett, and 2004's First Daughter, a romantic comedy starring Katie Holmes. Whitaker has directed a number of music videos as well, including Houston's "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)."
In 2006, Whitaker made several notable television appearances, including the role of a troubled internal affairs cop on FX's award-winning The Shield and a riveting turn as a stroke patient on ER. That year, he won critical acclaim for his powerful performance as dictator Idi Amin in the film The Last King of Scotland (2006). The role earned him numerous accolades, including the Best Actor Academy Award.
Whitaker’s filmography expanded throughout the decade, with the thespian providing thoughtful commentary on some of his work in interviews. In 2007, he starred in The Great Debaters, a film directed by Denzel Washington that focused on a trailblazing African-American college team. Additional movie projects for the year included The Air I Breathe, Even Money and Ripple Effect, and more featured roles followed in ensemble dramas like Vantage Point (2008) and Fragments (2009), the children's book adaptation Where the Wild Things Are (2009), the sci-fi thriller Repo Men (2010) and the comedy Our Family Wedding (2010).
Check out BIO’s original video series, American Freedom Stories, about the historic events of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, and the leaders and everyday heroes who fought to make racial equality a reality. Watch videos.
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Who can forget Angela Bassett as Tina Turner or Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles? Do you remember who played Billie Holiday? Or who Beyoncé performed as in the film Cadillac Records? More recent African-American biopics include the Lifetime original movie Betty & Coretta (2013), starring Angela Bassett as Coretta Scott King and Mary J. Blige as Betty Shabazz, and The Butler (2013), starring Forest Whitaker and based on the life of Eugene Allen.
View our photos of African-American biopics to compare these famous figures to the actors and actresses who have portrayed them.
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Truth is often more fascinating than fiction. Since the beginning of movies, actors have been portraying figures from history and bringing them to life on screen. Mastering the well-known mannerisms and characteristics of real world figures can be more challenging than portraying a fictional character. Enormous amounts of research and drastic physical transformations are not uncommon for actors wanting to properly inhabit their role on film. Whether playing a scheming Queen, a country singer, a temperamental boxer, or a pioneering writer, those performers who can accurately play the part often find Oscar gold as their reward. Here are the Academy Award-winning actors, and the larger-than-life people they portrayed.
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