Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker will receive the honorary Palme d'Or at the opening ceremony of this month's Cannes Film Festival.
A director, producer and humanitarian activist to boot, Whitaker is no stranger to the Croisette, having won best actor in 1988 for his portrayal as jazzman Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood's film "Bird", and having returned many times since.
Whitaker is to join the prestigious circle of previous Palme d'Or recipients including Jodie Foster, who received the prize in 2021, Jeanne Moreau, Bernardo Bertolucci, Manoel de Oliveira, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Agnès Varda and Alain Delon.
The award, to be presented during the live broadcast of the opening ceremony on 17 May, recognises not only his on-screen talent, but his strong humanitarian commitment to important issues.
"Thirty-four years ago, attending Cannes for the first time changed my life, and assured me that I’d made the right decision to devote myself to finding connectivity in humanity through film," he told festival organisers.
"It’s always a privilege to return to this beautiful festival to both screen my own work, and to be inspired by many of the world’s greatest artists – and I feel incredibly honored to be celebrated as part of the Festival’s momentous 75th anniversary."
Whitaker has had a long and vibrant career so far, taking on eclectic, challenging roles as an actor, as well as producing and directing numerous films.
His first of many trips to the Cannes film festival was in 1988 at the age of 27, when he won best actor.
Although "Bird" was his first lead role at the time, Whitaker had already garnered considerable attention for smaller roles in films like Martin Scorsese’s "The Color of Money", Oliver Stone’s "Platoon" and Barry Levinson’s "Good Morning, Vietnam".
He later went on to win an Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the British historical drama "The Last King of Scotland" (2006), just one of the many box-office hits he appeared in such as "The Crying Game", "Smoke", "Panic Room" (co-starring beside Jodie Foster), "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story", "Black Panther", "The Butler" and "Respect".
Whitaker has featured six times in the Official Selection at Cannes and four times in the Competition, with films such as Bill Duke’s "A Rage in Harlem", Abel Ferrara’s "Body Snatchers", and Jim Jarmusch’s "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai". He also appeared in "Zulu" by Jérôme Salle, closing the 2013 Festival.
"When welcoming Forest Whitaker to Cannes, I was able to meet and admire an artist with intense charisma and a luminous presence", festival director Thierry Frémaux said.
"His filmography is both dazzling and fully accomplished. I also observed closely his convictions as a man, and the attention he carries for the young generation.
"Through his faith in a better world and his commitment, he contributes to making it a better place. Rare are the artists that reach such a beautiful balance, and Forest achieves it and sets an example."
In addition to his filmography as an actor, he has also directed four feature films ("Strapped", "Waiting to Exhale", "Hope Floats", "First Daughter") and produced such films as Ryan Coogler’s stirring "Fruitvale Station" presented in Un Certain Regard as well as the exhilarating "Dope", and more recently "Songs my Brothers Taught Me" by Chloé Zhao.
Goals for peace
Away from the silver screen, Whitaker has for many years taken on the role of humanitarian activist and spokesperson.
In 2011, he was inducted as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, later receiving a promotion to special envoy for peace and reconciliation. He was invited to speak at the Unesco headquarters in Paris in November 2021.
Whitaker serves as the CEO of Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI), a non-profit outreach program founded in 2012.
The NGO's goal is to work for peace and economic resilience in territories marked by armed conflict and violence. With 14 learning centres and a network of over 2,000 young leaders, it is present in Uganda, South Sudan, Mexico, South Africa, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, and even Los Angeles.
As well as receiving the honorary Palme d'Or, Whitaker is not coming to the 2022 Cannes festival empty handed.
The film he produced "For the Sake of Peace", directed by Christophe Castagne and Thomas Sametin, will be screened on 18 May.
It focuses on a lethal conflict that has opposed communities of South Sudan's Kidepo Valley for generations and the local people determined to strive for peace.
Gatjang, a referee in a refugee camp of Juba, uses sports to bring a culture of peace to youths from adverse tribes. And Nandege, a young mother, becomes a successful mediator against all odds.