Before he was T’Challa’s trusted advisor in 2018’s Black Panther, Forest Whitaker was already a well-known name in Hollywood. An actor from Denzel Washington’s generation (Washington is seven years older), Whitaker is a familiar face that has been seen in countless films and TV shows. Though he may not be as big of a name as Denzel, there’s no denying that Whitaker has a vast filmography. Some of his projects have even played a big part in shaping American culture.
Forest Whitaker was born on July 15, 1961 in Longview, Texas. His family then moved to Carson, California, where Whittaker spent his formative years. While in Carson, he played on the high school football team and sang in the choir. After graduating from high school in 1979, he then attended California State Polytechnic University on a football scholarship. It was during this time that he decided to change his focus from football to choir singing, which later transitioned into drama. After transferring to the University of Southern California to train as an opera singer, Whitaker then decided to make the switch to drama and graduated with a BFA in acting in 1982.
That same year, he earned his first film role as a high school football player in the urban coming-of-age tale Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The role helped open doors for him and soon the young actor was acting in numerous films throughout the ’80s. In 1985, he returned to the big screen as Jean-Pierre “Balldozer” Baldosier in the film Vision Quest. He followed that up with the Scorsese movie The Color of Money, playing the character of Amos opposite Paul Newman and Tom Cruise.
After that, Whitaker worked pretty consistently. In 1986, he landed his first Vietnam war film, Platoon, before delving into the law enforcement side of entertainment later that year in Stakeout. In 1987, he returned to the world of warfare as Private Edward Garlick in his second Vietnam film, Good Morning Vietnam, alongside Robin Williams. Later that year, he played the role of Agent Rawlins in the popular Jean Claude Van Damme film Bloodsport.
It was in 1988 that Whitaker finally achieved critical acclaim and stardom after landing the lead role of Charlie “Bird” Parker in the Clint Eastwood film Bird. For the next three years, Whitaker appeared in various movies before producing the classic film A Rage Against Harlem and starring in the lead role as Jackson in 1991. He then leveled up as an actor with his role in the 1992 film The Crying Game, in which he tried his hand at an English accent.
From there, Whitaker acted in numerous ’90s films including Consenting Adults, Bank Robber, Body Snatchers, Species, and Jason’s Lyric. He also went on to win awards for his work as Nate Pope in Phenomenon opposite John Travolta. One of his most well-known movies at the turn of the decade was Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, in which he played a hitman for the mob who followed the ancient code of the samurai.
Although his momentum slowed down a bit in the 2000s, Whitaker was still very much hard at work for most of the first part of the decade. In 2002, he became well-known for his roles in the films Panic Room and Phone Booth, but it wasn’t until 2006 that he played his iconic role as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the historical drama The Last King of Scotland. The film earned Whitaker many awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actor, and opened another set of doors into the new age of cinema.
From 2006 to 2013, Whitaker stayed busy with several films including The Great Debaters, Vantage Point, and Repo Men. In 2013, he landed the lead role of White House butler Cecil Gaines in Lee Daniel’s The Butler. The film went on to win numerous awards, with Whitaker’s performance being praised as one of the best in all of historical drama.
Fresh off his success in The Butler, Whitaker joined the cast of Liam Neeson’s popular Taken franchise and appeared in its final installment, Taken 3, as Inspector Frank Dotzler. With his career reinvigorated for a new generation of audiences, he began to find a new range of roles. In 2015, he produced the popular urban coming-of-age comedy drama Dope, narrating the film while the lead character Malcolm Adekanbi fumbled his way through California trying to get rid of someone else’s drugs. A year later, he appeared as Colonel Weber in the sci-fi drama Arrival opposite Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams. That same year, he appeared as the live-action version of the popular Star Wars: Clone Wars character Saw Gerrera in the Disney film Rogue One.
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In 2017, Whitaker returned to the realm of historical drama as the famous South African archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Forgiven opposite King Arthur star Eric Bana. Soon after, he produced the wildly controversial comedy Sorry To Bother You and even snagged himself a brief voice acting role as one of the Equisapiens.
All of that came before his role in 2018’s Black Panther, in which he played the role of Zuri. His most recent role was as civil rights activist C. L. Franklin in the 2021 biographical musical drama Respect based on the life of famed singer Aretha Franklin.
With all of these acting and producing credits to his name, one might think that Whitaker has made a substantial amount of money during his 30-year career. So what’s his current net worth?
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Forest Whitaker is only worth $30 million. That’s not bad, considering that most of his career has mainly been spent playing supporting characters. Yes, he’s had a few leads here and there, but he never built up the reputation as a bankable leading man with the ability to negotiate larger paychecks like his pal Denzel Washington. Still, bringing in about a million every year is definitely an accomplishment in itself, so Whitaker at least deserves some credit for keeping that consistent this whole time.