ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
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.
The Last King of Scotland: A Film on Idi Amin
Kam Williams Interviews Forest Whitaker
A Film Review by Kam Williams
Born 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 Forests interest in the acting, which he pursued at Berkeley.
Next, the 62 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.
But 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 nominations.
Since then, Forest has done phenomenal work in films like Panic Room, Ghost Dog, Jasons Lyric and American Gun, but hes 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 career.
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Kam: How did you become attached to this project?
Forest: [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 dont 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.
Kam:: What interested you in the role?
Forest: As an artist, its 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 reshape me.
Kam: And how did it reshape you?
Forest: It 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 life-transforming experience?
Forest: It touched something really deep inside of me, really. It changed my matrix, my insides. My blood even feels kinda different. I dont know how to describe it. Its really kind of Eucharistic. I feel like I ate the place and now its part of my system, part of my being. Im not claiming that now I know what its like to be African, but that now I have a deeper understanding of myself.
Kam: What measures did you take to prepare yourself for this role?
Forest: Well, I started by studying Kiswahili to learn the dialect. Then, I studied tapes, documentaries, footage, and audio cassettes of Idi Amins 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.
Forest: Yeah, 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?
Forest: I certainly dont think I couldve played the character the same way without being in Uganda. I loved working in Uganda.
Kam: What did you love about the country?
Forest: I 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?
Forest: By making sure that things were accurate. They would speak up about things in rooms or places that wouldnt 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?
Forest: I 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 cant 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?
Forest: Really 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 Uganda.
Kam: How do the people of Uganda feel about Amin today?
Forest: Its 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 theres 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 movies message?
Forest: Theres 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 its a very intense, entertaining film, because youre brought in on a fun ride, and slowly you fall into it as James [actor James McAvoys character, Dr. Nicholas Garrigan] does. Nicholas is like the audience. I think its a good ride for people. And you learn something, as well.
Kam: How do you feel about your performance generating some early Oscar buzz?
Forest: Im really excited that people are receiving my performance like this. It makes me feel good, because Ive been working really hard. And this character, I worked particularly hard on. But I dont want to get too caught up in it, because first of all, it could lead to a great disappointment. You never know whats going to happen. In my career, Ive had people talking about different things many times, but then not get nominated. So, I think its great to enjoy the moment, and thats what Im trying to right now. Im just hoping people are going to see the movie, because its a unique film.
Kam: In this role, we get to see a more explosive side of your acting range. Most of the characters youve portrayed in the past have been more measured and relatively subdued. Why do you think that is?
Forest: I think its the character, though theres a little transition, because I think Im marrying my internal and external life a little more lately. But I was trying to capture this mans 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 this?
Forest: Well, 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 Id 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 made?
Forest: Thats a really interesting question. I dont know. Theyve been trying to get this movie made for about six years. So, I wouldve thought that they might call him and talk to him. But I dont know if he was aware.
Kam: Thanks for the time, and I expect youre finally going to get that Oscar nomination for this performance.
Forest: Cool, thank you. Take care.
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Forest Whitaker Delivers Oscar-Quality Performance
in Implausible Portrait of Ugandan Dictator
Film Review of The Last King of Scotland by Kam Williams
Was Ugandas 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 countries.
This explains why, in 1976, the pro-PLO Amin allowed Palestinian terrorists to land a hijacked airliner at Ugandas 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 were 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.
The book explores similar themes as Conrads Heart of Darkness, sharing that literary classics inclination to paint Africa as a frightening, godforsaken land of unimaginable bloodlust. The novel is narrated by a fictitious character purely a creation of Fodens 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 Whitakers interpretation of Amin is admittedly mesmerizing, whats nevertheless disappointing is the scripts 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.
The 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 hes become infatuated with one of Amins neglected wives (Kerry Washington). Though no longer able to feign ignorance, he inexplicably chooses to remain in Uganda, with dire consequences.
The 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 and emotions.
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 Pictures
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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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Wole Soyinka
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and perception
a 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 ancestral spirits
who alternately terrify and inspire him
all 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 attack.
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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 Weekly
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By Peter Edelman
If the nations gross national incomeover $14 trillionwere 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 millionclimbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted forwhile 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.
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By Alek Wek
“When I 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.”
Born 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 faced hostility.Jamaica-Gleaner
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
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, and scholar 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’.”
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
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 Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys 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.
Professor Perry 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 Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 14 July 2012