Dear Forest Whitaker,
You are a humanist. Of those who work tirelessly to reveal humanity in each of us and to remember the strong bonds that unite men and women. This humanism, it characterizes your play and the way you have to open your heart and soul so that the character exists and grows within you. But it is above all emblematic of a career at the service of others and of the most just causes.
From your childhood in the neighbourhoods of Los Angeles that will experience the terrible riots of 1992, you have kept the conviction that youth must be at the heart of our priorities. And that for her, with her, we must have the ambition to change the world.
It is thanks to music that you integrate the dramatic arts program of the University of Southern California and then Berkeley. It is the music that still causes your first success: after prestigious debuts in Platoon by Oliver Stone and in The Color of Money by Martin Scorsese, your first great success is intimately linked to music.
In Clint Eastwood’s Bird, you are Charlie Parker, the prince of the bebop and that beat you describe as a beating heart. The film was screened at Cannes in 1988 and your performance, which was praised by the public and critics, was honoured by the Festival. You are the first black actor to be awarded the Palme d'Or for best male performer.
From success to success, you then show the extent of your game with the same intensity, the same investment. For each of your roles, you say you reincarnate again and again with a gesture or an expression of each of these successive metamorphoses: British soldier in The Crying game by Neil Jordan, designer for Robert Altman in Prêt-A-porter, a lost father in Wayne Wang’s Smoke based on a screenplay by Paul Auster and, above all, the hero of the remarkable Ghost Dog, Jim Jarmusch’s Samurai Way. In this unforgettable picture of the interlope urban universe where RZA rap composes a masterful backdrop, you are a hired killer whose solitude and supple elegance seem to pay homage to the poetic Samurai of Jean-Pierre Melville.
With David Fincher’s Panic Room and a zealous detective in Joel Schumacher’s Phone Game, it is with Kevin Macdonald’s The Last King of Scotland that you leave a lasting impression. Your performance as a dictator of Uganda has earned you many awards, including the Academy Award for Best Male Performer.
This year, the Cannes Film Festival has once again given you a warm welcome for Zulu by Jérôme Salle, which you produced at the close of the Festival and Fruitvale Station.
Talented actor you are also director and producer proving that the versatility of your game is like that of your career. You direct several comedies, including Where are the men? around Whitney Huston and Angelica Basset.
But above all, you see cinema as a means of raising public awareness of the causes that are dear to you: your commitment to the cause of child soldiers and the youth of urban America is praised by the Film for Peace Award in 2007.
As a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, you are firmly convinced that there is no more effective weapon than public action and education to overcome violence. To better defend the need for educational programs to combat violence, you teach on campuses, including Rutgers University. You are also at the heart of reflections on the city’s policies to combat exclusion.
Convinced that it is through art and education that the fight against all violence and exclusion begins, you wanted to put your popularity at the service of the greatest number. And it is the turn of the French Republic to pay you today the tribute that your talent and your triumphant humanism deserve.
Dear Forest Whitaker, on behalf of the French Republic, we present you with the insignia of Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.