Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
The Influence

Forest Whitaker's speaking voice skews to the soft-spoken, but he's all about making yourself heard. He left a football scholarship to pursue light opera at USC; started producer and directing films after nearly a decade as an actor; and, four years ago, co-founded JuntoBox Films, a collective that funds, produces and distributes films created and chosen by as chosen by the JuntoBox community. The first JuntoBox production, "Sacrifice" starring Dermot Mulroney and Melora Walters, is now in post. 

"It's a democratic space for filmmaking," he says. "I'm not doing anything other than continuing to express myself and tell stories. The most empowering thing is to be heard."

Similarly, Whitaker responded to "Fruitvale Station" director Ryan Coogler's voice when he met the USC student at the recommendation of professor John Watson. "I looked at some of his shorts. I asked him what ideas he had  and one was 'Fruitvale.' Told [producing partner] Nina [Yang] to make a deal with him; I left and he went back to class. He later told me, 'Is he that impulsive? I'd better write it quick before he changed his mind.' This film is very special -- he's an amazing artist, with an amazing voice. I'm fortunate to walk alongside him."

He'll have four films coming out in the next year, including "The Butler" and the musical "Black Natvity," but Whitaker is also committed to his PeaceEarth Foundation, which is dedicated to no less than world peace and takes him to negotiations across Africa and soon in Mexico. "Everything's about being a facilitator in some way. I work in foundations to bring those voices out; it's one of the key reasons to push this forward."

Biggest Success

"'Fruitvale.' I'm really happy that people embraced it at Sundance and Cannes. And the foundation Peace Earth Southern Sudan -- we're commissioned to move the program across the country.

Biggest Disappointment

"Working on a lot of projects and films back to back took me away from my home a lot. I was away so much -- it's difficult for my family, for my children. They know I'm doing mediation in S. Africa and they respect the work, but it's difficult. I haven't been able to balance everything, but I've been blessed."

Biggest Challenge

Conflict resolution and community building in Chiapas, Mexico. "Thousands of lives are being lost. My Spanish is getting better -- I have a staff, but I tend to work on the ground, too."

What's Next

A September shoot for an untitled feature set on a native reservation; another JuntoBox greenlight; and another Significant feature, this one directed by Chloe Valle.