Forest Whitaker honoured with Palme d’Or

Bird actor returns to Festival which changed his life

by Richard Mowe

'An artist of intense charisma and a luminous presence,” Cannes director Thierry Frémaux on honorary Palme d’Or recipient Forest Whitaker
'An artist of intense charisma and a luminous presence,” Cannes director Thierry Frémaux on honorary Palme d’Or recipient Forest Whitaker Photo: WPDI
Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker will receive Cannes Film Festival’s honorary Palme d’Or at this year’s 75th edition.

He follows in an illustrious line of honorary Palme recipients such as Jodie Foster last year and previously Alain Delon, Jeanne Moreau, Agnès Varda and Bernardo Bertolucci among many. The award will be bestowed at the opening ceremony on 17 May.

The tenets of the award stipulate that it should pay tribute to “a sparkling artistic journey, a rare personality as well as a discreet but strong humanitarian commitment to key topical issues”.

Whitaker responded to the news by saying that he first attended the festival 34 years ago. “It changed my life, and assured me that I’d made the right decision to devote myself to finding connectivity in humanity through film. It’s always a privilege to return to this beautiful festival to both screen my own work, and to be inspired by many of the world’s greatest artists – and I feel incredibly honoured to be celebrated as part of the festival’s momentous 75th anniversary.”

The actor came to Cannes in 1988 and appeared in Bird as Charlie Parker, the visionary jazzman who took the saxophone to a higher, unprecedented dimension. It was his first lead role alongside Clint Eastwood although he had already received attention in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money, Oliver Stone’s Platoon, and Barry Levinson’s Good Morning, Vietnam.

The inclusion of Bird in the Festival gave him a best actor award at the age of 27

Festival director Thierry Frémaux said: "The whole world discovered an actor with phenomenal power, in tune with a sensitivity that spells a form of grace, a mass of feelings that conveys human fragility through the voice and in the eyes.

"When welcoming Forest Whitaker to Cannes, I was able to meet and admire an artist with intense charisma and a luminous presence", continued Frémaux. "His filmography is both dazzling and fully accomplished. I also observed closely his convictions as a man, and the attention he carries for the young generation. Through his faith in a better world and his commitment, he contributes to making it a better place. Rare are the artists that reach such a beautiful balance, and Forest achieves it and sets an example".

Whitaker returned six times in the Official Selection and four times in the Competition, with Bird and then Bill Duke’s A Rage in Harlem, Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers, and Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai.

The day after his award there will be a special screening of For The Sake Of Peace by Christophe Castagne and Thomas Sametin. The film examines racism and injustice in the United States through the eyes of those of African descent.

Whitaker once told me an interview: “I guess I have always kind of had a belief in God. I cannot really recall not having one. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher and my father was an elder who does minister to the congregation some times. I am a practising Christian.

"I was told my mom when I was young that I didn’t know, because I had always studied religion since I was little. When I said I don’t know if I want to go to Church, and she said you do not have to go to Church but you have to go somewhere where you can find a relationship with God. I was only ten years old. So I actually went off eventually to the movies instead. And, yes, I do see film in a spiritual way. Film is a creation and I think of it as a life and it follows the precepts of life – it starts off with sound, and then light and you follow a story. And it is the same laws that are in most traditions. That is why you can know what has happened in the past and theoretically know what is going to happen in the future.”

The Cannes Film Festival runs from 17 to 28 May.

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