Born in Texas but raised in Southern California, Forest Whitaker initially attended college on a football scholarship but then transferred to USC to focus on classical voice and opera. His strong tenor won Whitaker roles in several local stage productions and a move to New York and Broadway seemed to be the next logical career step. But that all changed when Whitaker landed his first recognizable film role as a linebacker in 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Strong supporting parts followed in top Hollywood movies (Platoon, The Color of Money, Good Morning, Vietnam) but it was his role in Clint Eastwood's 1988 Bird, a biopic of legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, that cemented Whitaker's reputation as a legitimate actor with a wide range. During the 1990s Whitaker branched out into directing (Waiting to Exhale) and producing (A Rage in Harlem) while he kept up his jam-packed acting schedule with memorable appearances in such diverse films as Neil Jordan's The Crying Game, Robert Altman's Ready to Wear and Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. The new century saw Whitaker continue to expand his artistic horizons. For TV, he executive produced the Emmy-winning Door to Door, hosted a Twilight Zone reboot and gave a critically lauded performance as an Internal Affairs cop on the fifth season of The Shield. But the highlight of the decade was his Oscar-winning turn as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Whitaker, who has a black belt in karate, showed off his expert moves in the 2010 sci-fi flick Repo Men and signed on for a Criminal Minds spin-off (Minds 2.0) for the 2010-11 television season. Whitaker, married to Keisha Nash since 1996, is father to four children.
- Grew up in Southern California and was an All-League defensive tackle on his high-school football team; received a college football scholarship.
- Also earned a music scholarship at USC, where he studied voice (he's a tenor), and an acting scholarship at the Berkeley, CA, branch of the Drama Studio London.
- Won the Best Actor award at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival for his role of Charlie Parker in Bird; Whitaker's younger brother Damon played Parker as a child.
- Directed music videos for (among others) Cheryl Pepsii Riley, Low Key, Whitney Houston and Jagged Edge.
- Has a black belt in karate.
- 2007, Independent Spirit Awards — Best Male Lead: Nominee
- 1989, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama: Nominee
- 2007, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama: Winner
- 2014, Independent Spirit Awards — Best First Feature: Winner
- 2003, Emmy — Outstanding Made for Television Movie: Winner
- 2007, BAFTA Film Awards — Best Actor in a Leading Role: Winner
- 2007, Critics' Choice Awards — Best Actor: Winner
- 2003, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries: Nominee
- 2016, Critics' Choice Awards — Best Supporting Actor in a Movie Made for Television or Limited Series: Nominee
- 2006, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role: Winner
- 1994, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries: Nominee
- 2006, Oscar — Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Winner
- 2016, Independent Spirit Awards — Best First Feature: Nominee
- 2010, Emmy — Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking: Nominee
- 2013, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role: Nominee
- 2007, Emmy — Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series: Nominee
- 1988, Cannes Film Festival — Best Actor: Winner
- 2013, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture: Nominee
- True Isabella Summer Whitaker — Daughter
- Keisha Nash — Wife
- Autumn — Stepdaughter
- Forest Whitaker Jr. — Father
- Laura Whitaker — Mother
- Damon Whitaker — Brother
- Kenn Whitaker — Brother
- Ocean Alexander Whitaker — Son
- Sonnet Noel Whitaker — Daughter
- Attended California Polytechnic Institute, Pomona, California, United States; attended University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, United States