Belfast Telegraph

Forest Whitaker: Black Panthers 'were cool'

Forest Whitaker reminisces about his experience being surrounded by political revolutionaries as a child.

The 52-year-old Academy Award-winning actor, who stars in political biopic The Butler, has revealed that he grew up alongside American revolutionary group the Black Panthers and has fond memories of them.

“I grew up and I was raised in South Central LA, so the Black Panther Party’s office was around the corner from my house,” he told Cinema Blend. “So, every day I saw them as kids, they picked me up, they knew my name.”

“I knew the Panthers were cool. I remember looking at the poster of [Huey P. Newton]. It was right there on the corner, and I remembered that they were really nice to me and I knew that they stood for strength and I remember what happened in school when the deaths happened, with King, and things like that.”

In The Butler, Whitaker portrays real-life manservant Cecil Gaines, an African-American who worked in the White House serving presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower through to Ronald Reagan.

Cecil’s son gets involved with the Black Panther Party, but Whitaker’s character is reluctant to risk his job by supporting any Civil Rights Era activities.

Forest says he respects the Panthers for how they contributed to his community.

The star claims that although he didn’t really understand their purpose when he was a kid, he now believes the organisation’s bad reputation is unfair.

“They started in Los Angeles, to help the community,” the actor said, “and then it grew into something else and turned into something else, basically because of pressure and dysfunction of what society does when it doesn’t offer the economic opportunities as well as opportunities to be able to be treated as a human being.”

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