Forest Whitaker is a swash buckling derring-do and a big man. He has featured in so many movies such as The Butler, The Last King of Scotland, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Southpaw, Bird, Platoon, Ghost and Dog just to mention a few. The man who normally talks tough in movies with derring-do finality has a veneer of humility and simplicity. He does not buckle under pressure and workload. He carries no air and hasn’t got his shoulder to the cloud. He is the owner of Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative in some states of South Sudan that he finances for youth development. It was in one of such trips that I met him and provided close protection to him and his crew in one of the suburbs of South Sudan. He has been coming to this place ever since.
Whitaker is one of the most casual and down to earth superstars I have seen. He still wore the same pair of shoes he came with in the first trip three months back. Needless to say that the optical reading glasses were the same square white one he used during his last visit and he has this blue jacket he wore in the flight previously.
He kicks no wind and carries no airs. Neither has he a provoking cocky demeanour that has formed the font or usual with actors in his class jaded reputation. He is miles apart with those superstars that have an ego problem and unbecoming glee. Housewives and house helps, people born in and out of wedlock, street children and child soldiers all decked in local garb milled around him as he was regalling and revelling at the local dance that was played. He is engaging, very witty with an engaging ear to listen. What’s more — his strong sense of humour is still with him.
Thank God, he wore plain glasses otherwise I wouldn’t have seen the protruding eyes popping out each time he burst into prolonged laughter. He wore a simple dress and an ankle boot. Thank God I met him in the evening when the tempo of events had slowed down otherwise, he wouldn’t have told me about his chieftaincy title in Imo State: Nwanne di na mba, which he translated. The discussion was down-to-earth. We discussed where he kept his wife, number of children, my own kids as well and the next movie, “Black General”, he is working out for the MSF to be shot in Bayelsa State of Nigeria. Names of his children are interesting just like the discussion — Ocean Whitaker, True Whitaker and Autumn Whitaker among other of his six kids. I asked why he didn’t consider Nigeria for his humanitarian activities. He asked me to tell him of Ile Ife because he was planning to visit there for a cultural exhibition and all that.
He told me of the day Igbo people conferred the title to him at Owerri and told me of the story of the life eagle that was presented to him. The eagle later presented a problem because he neither gave it out nor flew back to the US with it. Though he does not speak Igbo, he managed effortlessly to pronounce the Igbo title and quickly translated what it means — Nwanne Di Na Mba — Sibling in a another land. He is dying to visit Nigeria again and has travelled to places like Port Harcourt. I asked if he could find me a role in the upcoming movie, Black General, and he erupted in a burst of laughter. Throughout this encounter, his body guards managed to keep away autograph seekers and people wanting to take photos with him but some beat the security cordon and interrupted.
He stayed up the whole day participating in the youth leadership activities which he sponsors and gave a closing speech void of mendacious high sounding verbiage typical of actors of his genre. Earlier in the day when I was giving the security profile of the state, he meticulously took notes as if there would be exams thereafter.
Contrary to other actors who thrive in buying prized mansions in exotic locations in some distant land, this fellow is comfortable spending his money in Africa and giving out the latest Samsung Galaxy Tab with internet connection paid up front. He is building and equipping a Youth Centre and installing solar power. He is replicating the same elsewhere in the country and somewhere in Uganda. I asked him why he wouldn’t do that to Nigeria. After throwing up our hands in despair and helplessness, he gave me the impression that Nigerians are not as needy as folks in this sub-region. But I think that flies in the face of the reality. I must confess that he is genuinely interested in Nigeria and things that can improve life thereof.