• Golden Globe Awards

Out of the Archives: Forest Whitaker on Africa

Forest Whitaker spoke with the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in 2006 about playing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. He won a Golden Globe as Best Actor in a Drama for this performance.
“Kevin Macdonald, the director, wanted me to be large and imposing, the bigger Idi Amin, because in earlier times, when he was a boxer, he was the heavyweight champion of Uganda for nine years (1951 to 1960), he was in really good shape. But Kevin wanted that larger-than-life quality because that’s the impression that people have of him in their minds, of this really giant-sized man.
“I studied the Barbet Schroeder documentary (General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait, 1974), which followed him around for a long period of time. That was really helpful to me because he put him in all these different situations, you would see him with his kids, with his cabinet, with his doctors, at the press conferences, so it helped inform me about the way he dealt with people. There was so much material because he was such a showman, he loved to dress up, to be in front of the press and to have fun. So, I started to realize some of the reasons why the Ugandans had such mixed feelings about him. Clearly, they know that he’s responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people, but in their minds, some look at him as a hero.”
“Africa is one of the most colonized continents in the world, and each one of the countries there has a different story because of it, so the power of the movie is that it’s speaking to what we’re dealing with today. What happens when we (Europeans) go into a country and tell the people to do certain things, behave certain ways, throw out certain ideals? What type of monsters do we create from that?”
The Last King of Scotland is one of the many titles that Idi Amin gave himself.  He did have a respect for the Scottish, they fought with him and he liked them because they had clans as they did in Uganda, they played music before they fought in battle, they had an oral culture, and he saw them as a people oppressed by the British. So, he thought, ‘I freed my people, now I free my brothers, and I will be their last king.’”
“When I went to Uganda – that was the first time I had ever been to the African continent – I was struck by the ground first because the earth was really red, then by the lushness of the place and then by this feeling inside of me. I had always thought I would go to West Africa first because my ancestors are from there, my mom’s side from the Akan tribe in Ghana and my father’s from the Igbo tribe in Nigeria. But I ended up in Uganda, I went not only to the source of the Nile but to the source of man, I went back to the beginning of my ancestry.  So, it was an amazing experience that changed my life and my thoughts.”