Who Is Forest Whitaker?

Born in 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, Ghost Dog and The Butler. Whitaker, who is also a producer and director, won an Oscar for portraying Idi Amin in 2006’s The Last King of Scotland.

Early Life

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.

Films and TV Roles

'Fast Times at Ridgemont High,' 'Bird'

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.

'Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai'

The on-screen projects continued for Whitaker throughout the 1990s and early 2000s 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.

Directing 'Waiting to Exhale'

Whitaker expanded to producing and directing, having particular success in television with 1993's gritty urban film Strapped 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)."

Oscar Win for 'The Last King of Scotland'

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 Academy Award for Best Actor.

'The Great Debaters,' 'Where the Wild Things Are'

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 projects for the year included The Air I Breathe, Even Money and Ripple Effect. 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).

'The Butler'

Whitaker has also taken on parts in several crime dramas, including A Dark Truth (2012) and The Last Stand (2013), co-starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 2013, he starred as the lead in the biopic The Butler. The film, directed by Lee Daniels and co-starring Oprah Winfrey, tells the story of Eugene Allen, who worked in the White House with eight consecutive U.S. presidents.

'Southpaw,' 'Black Panther,' 'Godfather of Harlem'

Continuing his regular screen appearances, Whitaker featured prominently in the boxing drama Southpaw (2015), alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, and played the rebel fighter Saw Gerrera in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). He then joined the cast of the wildly successful Black Panther (2018), as Wakandan elder Zuri. Whitaker also returned to television during this period, enjoying a recurring role on the hit series Empire, before starring as drug kingpin Bumpy Johnson on Godfather of Harlem.

Personal Life

Whitaker married actress Keisha Nash in 1996; they have two daughters. He also has a son and she has a daughter from previous relationships. Whitaker filed for divorce in December 2018, citing irreconcilable differences.


  • Name: Forest Steven Whitaker
  • Birth Year: 1961
  • Birth date: July 15, 1961
  • Birth State: Texas
  • Birth City: Longview
  • Birth Country: United States
  • Gender: Male
  • Best Known For: Actor 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.'
  • Industries
    • Film
  • Astrological Sign: Cancer
  • Schools
    • University of Southern California
    • California State Polytechnic University

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  • Article Title: Forest Whitaker Biography
  • Author: Biography.com Editors
  • Website Name: The Biography.com website
  • Url: https://www.biography.com/actors/forest-whitaker
  • Access Date:
  • Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
  • Last Updated: March 30, 2021
  • Original Published Date: April 2, 2014


  • ...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.