The Last King of
Scotland: A Film on Idi Amin
Interviews Forest Whitaker
Film Review by Kam Williams
on July 15, 1961 in Longview, Texas, Forest Steven
Whitaker was originally an athlete who played football
in college at Cal-State Fullerton. But a back injury led
to his transferring to USC where he trained as a tenor
for the opera. This endeavor whetted Forest’s interest
in the acting, which he pursued at Berkeley.
Next, the 6’2” teddy bear ventured to England where he
proceeded to perfect his craft onstage at the Drama
Studio London before returning to the states to make a
modest screen debut in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
He followed that up with bit parts on such TV series as
Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey and
Different Strokes before landing back on the big
screen in The Color of Money, Platoon, and
Good Morning, Vietnam.
his big break arrived in 1988 when he handled the title
role in Bird, the Clint Eastwood bio-pic
chronicling the troubled life and times of jazz legend
Charlie Parker. Still, Whitaker earned even more
critical acclaim for The Crying Game, although
two other actors in the movie earned Academy Award
Since then, Forest has done phenomenal work in films
like Panic Room, Ghost Dog, Jason’s
Lyric and American Gun, but he’s never
managed to garner any serious Oscar consideration. All
that might change after The Last King of Scotland,
where he delivers another mesmerizing performance, this,
as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Here, Forest reflects on
this latest role, a fitting capstone on a magnificent
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Kam: How did
you become attached to this project?
[Producers] Lisa Bryer and Andrea Calderwood first gave
me the book about five or six years ago. Then, the movie
kind of fell apart. I don’t know what happened. I just
went on about my thing. About a year and a half ago,
Kevin [director Kevin Macdonald] became involved. I met
with him, and ultimately, he decided for me to go ahead
and play the part.
interested you in the role?
Forest: As an
artist, it’s a great opportunity to play a character
like this. And then, as a person, I had never been to
the African continent. So, I knew, personally, it would
Kam: And how
did it reshape you?
reshaped my point-of-view of colonialism. It reshaped my
point-of-view of my own sense of source, and my own
place of birth. It made it more organic inside of me,
because it placed me in a position where my job was to
understand and to become more African. That was an
unbelievable opportunity. I could never have gone to
Africa another way and had the same experience. It was
my job and my joy at the same time.
Kam: Was it a
touched something really deep inside of me, really. It
changed my matrix, my insides. My blood even feels kinda
different. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s really
kind of Eucharistic. I feel like I ate the place and now
it’s part of my system, part of my being. I’m not
claiming that now I know what it’s like to be African,
but that now I have a deeper understanding of myself.
measures did you take to prepare yourself for this role?
I started by studying Kiswahili to learn the dialect.
Then, I studied tapes, documentaries, footage, and audio
cassettes of Idi Amin’s speeches. And I met with his
brothers, his sisters, his ministers, his generals . . .
all kinds of people, in order to try to understand him.
Kam: You also
seem to have undergone a significant physical
transformation for the role.
Kevin wanted him to be bigger, so definitely, I did gain
some more weight for the character. And since Idi Amin
was from the Sudanese section in the north of Uganda, he
was darker skinned. He had more of a blue undertone. So,
we did change the coloring of my skin.
Kam: Did it
help to shoot the film in Africa?
certainly don’t think I could’ve played the character
the same way without being in Uganda. I loved working in
Kam: What did
you love about the country?
found the people to be very kind and generous. It was
unique because the crew was mainly Ugandan. They had
never done a film before. So they were learning the
process of making films, but at the same time they were
also helping with the authenticity of the film.
Kam: How so?
making sure that things were accurate. They would speak
up about things in rooms or places that wouldn’t be that
way. So it became like a cool sort of give-and-take
situation, with them working more in films, and us
learning more about Uganda.
Kam: How did
you find yourself affected by being in Uganda?
think the place fed me completely. Not only was I in
Uganda, but I was around many people who had a personal
relationship with Idi Amin. I was eating the food
constantly. I was culturally hanging out with the
people. You can’t help but absorb the energy, and try to
get inside the culture.
Kam: Would you
say, then, that making the movie in Africa was critical?
trying to understand, inside, what it is to be Ugandan
was crucial to the character, because there are Ugandan
ways of doing things that I was trying to capture. Even
if I had made this movie in South Africa, it would not
have been the same, because it is so specific to
Kam: How do
the people of Uganda feel about Amin today?
kind of a duality. There are people who hate him, a
small amount. And then there are the people who really
admire him, like a hero. And then there’s a large group
who say, “We know that all these murders and atrocities
occurred, but he did all these great things.”
Kam: What do
you see as the movie’s message?
There’s a couple. One has to do with the corruption of
power, because it deals with friendship, betrayal, and
how power corrupts. Then, also, more importantly, I
think it deals with the foreign powers coming into a
country and dictating the way the people should live and
what they should believe, putting leaders into
positions, and what kind of monsters are created from
that type of behavior.
Kam: How do
you anticipate audiences responding to the movie?
Forest: I hope
that audiences respond really positively. I think it’s a
very intense, entertaining film, because you’re brought
in on a fun ride, and slowly you fall into it as James
[actor James McAvoy’s character, Dr. Nicholas Garrigan]
does. Nicholas is like the audience. I think it’s a good
ride for people. And you learn something, as well.
Kam: How do
you feel about your performance generating some early
really excited that people are receiving my performance
like this. It makes me feel good, because I’ve been
working really hard. And this character, I worked
particularly hard on. But I don’t want to get too caught
up in it, because first of all, it could lead to a great
disappointment. You never know what’s going to happen.
In my career, I’ve had people talking about different
things many times, but then not get nominated. So, I
think it’s great to enjoy the moment, and that’s what
I’m trying to right now. I’m just hoping people are
going to see the movie, because it’s a unique film.
Kam: In this
role, we get to see a more explosive side of your acting
range. Most of the characters you’ve portrayed in the
past have been more measured and relatively subdued. Why
do you think that is?
think it’s the character, though there’s a little
transition, because I think I’m marrying my internal and
external life a little more lately. But I was trying to
capture this man’s energy, and I did a lot of research
in studying him. I tried to capture his “Warrior King”
energy inside of me as much as possible.
Kam: To what
extent do you have to channel all your energies with a
laser-like focus to deliver an inspired performance like
you have to commit yourself and know that, for that time
frame, you have to commit to this character. But I did
call home and speak to my family. Otherwise, I was
pretty much consumed by this character. Even when I was
off, I was continually searching to find something else
new about Amin, and to embed myself deeper into the
culture to the point that, in the end, I was so
entrenched that I could tell what tribe someone was from
just by looking at them.
Kam: After all
the work you did to become Amin, how hard was it to
decompress and get him out of your system to return to
yourself, when you finished filming?
Forest: On the
very last day of shooting, I remember wanting to get the
character out of me right away, as much as I could. You
literally take a bath to wash him off you. And you try
to get your voice back, because my speaking range for
the role was a lot lower. Luckily, I went into another
part not so long afterwards, so I was kind of able to
push it away a little bit. But speech patterns, and
little sounds, particularly colloquial things, like the
way you ask questions or might respond, were sticking
with me, probably because I’d worked so hard to make it
a part of my everyday way of expressing myself. It also
took a little longer for me to stop talking about him in
the first person.
Kam: Amin died
in exile in 2003. Was he aware that this movie was being
a really interesting question. I don’t know. They’ve
been trying to get this movie made for about six years.
So, I would’ve thought that they might call him and talk
to him. But I don’t know if he was aware.
for the time, and I expect you’re finally going to get
that Oscar nomination for this performance.
thank you. Take care.
* * *
Whitaker Delivers Oscar-Quality Performance
in Implausible Portrait of Ugandan
Review of The
Last King of Scotland
by Kam Williams
Uganda’s Idi Amin (1924-2003) merely a monomaniacal
misanthrope as suggested by the generally-accepted myth,
or was he a diabolical despot with more of a method to
his madness? The conventional caricature created over
the course of his eight-year reign of terror dismissed
the sadistic strongman as a laughingstock among world
leaders. This was based on an array of increasingly
bizarre, mostly unsubstantiated rumors circulated in the
Western press depicting him as a depraved character
indulging in erratic behavior ranging from a childlike
narcissism to outright cannibalism.
Conveniently overlooked, in the rush to dismiss Amin
simply as a paranoid lunatic who had senselessly
slaughtered 300,000 of his own people without rhyme or
reason, was the fact that he was a Muslim and that much
of the sectarian violence which erupted in the wake of
his 1971 coup had been along religious rather than
tribal lines. For example, soon after assuming power,
not only did he create death squads comprised primarily
of trusted Nubian and Sudanese from the Islam-dominated
north, but he also broke off diplomatic relations with
Israel, while cultivating closer ties with Arab
explains why, in 1976, the pro-PLO Amin allowed
Palestinian terrorists to land a hijacked airliner at
Uganda’s International Airport at Entebbe; and why, when
he was ultimately exiled in 1979, he was granted asylum
by Saudi Arabia. So, given the recent rise of radical
Islam, one might expect a new bio-pic revisiting the
life of the despicable dictator to take a fresh look at
his motivations as possibly one of the early proponents
of an emerging ideology.
Unfortunately, The Last King of Scotland presents Amin
as essentially that creepy, cartoonish persona we’re
already familiar with, rather than from a more
complicated perspective. The problem undoubtedly
emanates from the source material, since the picture is
based on the historical novel of the same name written
by Giles Foden, a Scotsman who was a child at the time
that his subject was in power.
book explores similar themes as Conrad’s Heart of
Darkness, sharing that literary classic’s
inclination to paint Africa as a frightening,
godforsaken land of unimaginable bloodlust. The novel is
narrated by a fictitious character purely a creation of
Foden’s imagination, a naive Scottish doctor with an
uncanny, Forrest Gump-like knack for appearing at
memorable moments in Ugandan history.
This fairly-faithful adaptation of the best seller was
directed by another Scotsman, Kevin MacDonald, who
coaxes an Oscar-quality performance out of Forest
Whitaker, though sadly in service of a mediocre
melodrama. For while Whitaker’s interpretation of Amin
is admittedly mesmerizing, what’s nevertheless
disappointing is the script’s reluctance to humanize its
antagonist, settling instead to portray him as that
stereotypical mental patient (ala Hannibal Lector) who
alternates unpredictably between the polar opposites of
a refined charm and sheer brutality.
picture co-stars James McAvoy as Dr. Nicholas Garrigan,
a recent med school grad who arrives in the country
planning to practice among the poor. However, after
being recruited as the head-of-state personal physician,
he soon finds himself at the beck-and-call of Amin,
serving also as a confidante, sidekick and stand-in at
the presidential palace.
Enjoying the Mercedes convertible and other
considerable perks of his plumb position, Garrigan
initially has no problem with his job. But as evidence
of the wholesale ethnic cleansing unfolding across the
countryside is gradually revealed, he becomes acutely
aware of his boss’ penchant for cruelty and of his own
implied complicity as a medical mercenary.
Then, when members of the cabinet start disappearing,
too, the doctor suddenly has a reason to fear for his
own safety, since he’s become infatuated with one of
Amin’s neglected wives (Kerry Washington). Though no
longer able to feign ignorance, he inexplicably chooses
to remain in Uganda, with dire consequences.
Last King of Scotland is likely to be worthwhile if
approached not as an historical epic, but as an
unlikely-buddy flick about a carefree adventurer
completely compromised and corrupted by the embodiment
of evil. Recommended for the work of Forest Whitaker
alone, even if the gifted actor was restricted by a
screenplay which squandered a golden opportunity to
imbue his character with a complex range of motivations
Good (2 stars) / Rated R
for sex, expletives, male and female frontal nudity,
graphic violence and gruesome images.
Running time: 121 minutes / Studio: Fox Searchlight
Lloyd Kam Williams is an attorney and a member of the bar
in NJ, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars.
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* * * * *
Aké: The Years of Childhood
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a
memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and
lyrical account of one boy's attempt to
grasp the often irrational and hypocritical
world of adults that equally repels and
seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief
anecdotes into history lessons,
conversations into morality plays, memories
into awakenings. Various cultures,
religions, and languages mingled freely in
the Aké of his youth, fostering endless
contradictions and personalized hybrids,
particularly when it comes to religion.
Christian teachings, the wisdom of the
ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of
alternately terrify and inspire him
carried equal metaphysical weight.
Surrounded by such a collage, he notes that
"God had a habit of either not answering
one's prayers at all, or answering them in a
way that was not straightforward."
In writing from a child's perspective,
Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and
unfiltered honesty while escaping the adult
snares of cynicism and intolerance. His
stinging indictment of colonialism takes on
added power owing to the elegance of his
* * * * *
Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism
By Derrick Bell
In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school's hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell's fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard's president and all of the school's black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination.
Civil rights lawyer Geneva
Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell's And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.—Publishers
* * * * *
So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America
By Peter Edelman
If the nation’s gross national income—over $14 trillion—were divided evenly across the entire U.S. population, every household could call itself middle class. Yet the income-level disparity in this country is now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. In 2010 the average salary for CEOs on the S&P 500 was over $1 million—climbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted for—while the current median household income for African Americans is just over $32,000. How can some be so rich, while others are so poor? In this provocative book, Peter Edelman, a former top aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a lifelong antipoverty advocate, offers an informed analysis of how this country can be so wealthy yet have a steadily growing number of unemployed and working poor. According to Edelman, we have taken important positive steps without which 25 to 30 million more people would be poor, but poverty fluctuates with the business cycle.
* * *
Alek: My Life from Sudanese Refugee to
cleaned toilets, I only saw it as work to
give me the means to achieve my goals. Of
course I hated it," the Sudanese supermodel
exclaimed. "Waking up at 4 a.m. when it's
freezing cold is not easy, followed by Uni,
coursework and my evening baby-sitting job,
but it made me disciplined and gave me a
huge sense of self-appreciation."
the seventh of nine children Alek, meaning
'black-spotted cow' (one of Sudan's most
treasured cows, which represents good luck),
never dreamt of becoming a model. Both in
her motherland, where she was considered to
be inferior due to her Dinka tribe (dubbed
as 'zurqa', meaning dirty black) and again
in Britain when she arrived in 1991, she
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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America.
This collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked
together to promote, disseminate, and critique
the literature of Spanish-speaking people of
African descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
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(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
update 14 July 2012