Wednesday, 22 June 2011


Whitaker and Bokova at UNESCO
Forest Whitaker, the American actor and activist, has become the latest goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

At a ceremony on June 21 at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris,  the agency’s director-general Irina Bokova said Whitaker was chosen for his humanitarian and artistic commitment.

““He brings compassion and commitment and feeling to what he does in this world of turmoil,” she told us. “I think it’s a wonderful kind of synergy between us and him for outreaching to communities.”

She said that Whitaker’s nomination as “Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation” was important to the agency as the actor would bring visibility to UNESCO’s messages about “peace, education, reconciliation”.

Whitaker, who has always portrayed unusual characters, is perhaps best known for his roles as jazz musician Charlie Parker in “Bird”, for which he won the Palme d’Or in Cannes for best actor in 1989,  and as deranged Ugandan leader Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland”, for which he received  an Academy Award in 2006.

He also works on projects that reflect his humanitarian concerns. He has produced a poignant film about Ugandan child soldiers as well as a documentary about the need to achieve peace and understanding in strife-torn communities.

Whitaker speaks to fans
Whitaker, 49 years old, said the relationship with UNESCO would result in a number of new initiatives.

“I have a plan to start work in training youths in peace and reconciliation in different regions of the world in conflict and to work with UNESCO on building an international institute for peace,” Whitaker said.

“I’m just gonna try to walk alongside, walk behind, carry the bags and do as much as I can to make it work,” he added. “I’m hoping I’ll be able to go out and connect with others in order to further the message of UNESCO.”

In October, Whitaker will participate in the organization’s Youth Forum at the 36th General Conference. He will be the keynote speaker and will present documentary and advocacy films, focusing on peace and reconciliation initiatives, UNESCO said.

The actor’s nomination as goodwill ambassador comes on the heels of a visit to UNESCO’s headquarters by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her address to the agency’s delegates in May was the first time that an American secretary of state had visited the institution. It seems that after years of being considered the UN’s unloved and controversial child, UNESCO is finally coming in from the cold. - A.M.