As successful, award-winning film stars, Forest Whitaker and Spike Lee both credit African-American entertainers who have come before them for their accomplishments. Dr. Angelou talks with Forest and Spike about their movie careers and recent film projects.
Forest calls himself a storyteller and says he tries to connect with other people through this medium. "In respect to all of the different art forms, whether it's directing, producing or acting or music, it's all just an expression of my spirit," he says. Forest won in Oscar® for for his role as former Ugandan president and dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. He diligently prepared and researched for the role, studying the Swahili language, his character's voice and what it means to be African. "I'm African-American, but I had not been to Africa—I didn't know enough about the soul of it," Forest says. "I needed to get in touch with that place inside of myself that was the same, that was truly connected to my ancestors."
Filming in Uganda, Forest immersed himself in the nation's culture—ate the food, listened to the stories, walked in the villages and slept in the huts. He calls the experience a spiritual journey and says he tries to share his touching experiences with his children so that they, too, can experience them.
For more than 20 years, Spike has revolutionized filmmaking and the way that African-Americans are portrayed. Born in Atlanta and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Spike discovered the summer before his junior year at Atlanta's Morehouse College that he wanted to be a director. "My first two years I was drifting, really had no direction," he says. "I chose mass communications, and I had more direction. In a lot of ways, I say filmmaking chose me, not the other way around."
Spike's latest film, Miracle at St. Anna, tells the story of black soldiers who fought in World War II against the Nazis and fascists in Tuscany, Italy. "It's a great blend of a war film with a heavy dose of spirituality, love and the common bond that unites us all," Spike says. "It was one of the highlights of my cinematic life so far."