Cannes ‘really changed my life’: Forest Whitaker to be honoured at festival

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American actor Forest Whitaker will be honoured at the Cannes Film Festival, which kicks off on Tuesday evening at the French Riviera.

Whitaker will receive an Honorary Palme D’Or at the festival’s opening ceremony, for his contributions to cinema as an actor, director and producer, and also his humanitarian work in several developing countries.

Whitaker was first thrust in the Cannes limelight in 1988, when he won the Best Actor award for playing jazzman Charlie Parker in Bird, for which he learned to play the saxophone.

“It really changed my life, the trajectory of my career in some ways, because it allowed me to be seen as an artist and not just a player,” he said of the Cannes recognition.

Whitaker appeared in Hollywood hits such as Martin Scorcese’s ”The Color of Money”, Oliver Stone’s ”Platoon” and Barry Levinson’s ”Good Morning, Vietnam”.

His role as Uganda’s military dictator Idi Amin earned him an Oscar in 2007.

Uganda remained a focus for Whitaker, who got involved in the NGO Hope North, who provided education for former child soldiers and survivors of the country’s civil war.

In 2012, Whitaker expanded his humanitarian work, founding the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI), with livelihood, education, and youth development projects in sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and Los Angeles.

Whitaker has also supported young filmmakers tackling social ills, such as Academy Award winner Chloe Zhang with her earlier film about native American Indians, “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” and Ryan Coogler with “Fruitvale Station”, about police brutality against Black men in California.

This year, he brings to Cannes “For the Sake of Peace”, a documentary directed by Christope Castagne and Thomas Sametin about young peacemakers in South Sudan, where the civil war has killed 350 000 people. It will play in the festival’s Special Screenings section.

“It’s all about different, diverse voices that can bring stories to life, that don’t get a chance to be seen,” Whitaker said.

The actor also confirmed that he would star in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Megapolis”, a film about city politics set in a utopian version of New York City.