Forest Whitaker Talks U.S. Under Trump, Race Relations, Hollywood in Davos

Ruven Afanador
Forest Whitaker

“We have to come to the table and find some common ground,” he tells the World Economic Forum. “Right now we’re polarized."

Forest Whitaker on Wednesday spoke out about the U.S. under incoming president Donald Trump, race relations, his choice of film roles and Hollywood’s inclusiveness during an onstage interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The actor and Oscar winner, for his role in The Last Kind of Scotland, earlier in the week received the Crystal Award in Davos for his leadership in peace building and conflict resolution through his nonprofit Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative, which helps communities affected by violence, and via his role as a UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation.

The World Economic Forum posted a summary of his comments on its site after the appearance. 

It highlighted that he said the U.S. was currently split, but he was hopeful that Trump would work to be a president for the whole country. “We have to come to the table and find some common ground,” Whitaker said, according to the summary. “Right now we’re polarized. There’s a lot of people that are doubting that we’re going to move forward in a positive way, but we have to try."

He added: "And if it doesn’t happen, the people themselves have to stand up and speak — protest, movements, marches, however, to make their voices be heard."

Discussing race relations in the U.S., Whitaker highlighted that black teenagers are 20 times more likely to be killed. “We have things we need to be working on,” he said, but highlighted that progress was made under President Barack Obama. “To try and act like we haven't had great progress is not true,” he said. “Obama didn’t fail, he changed the psyche of the nation and in some ways the world.”

What about Hollywood’s diversity issues? Whitaker said that Hollywood studios still often assume that to make money, films need to feature a white protagonist. “I think that certainly there are disparities where artists are not being recognized for their work at times, and it’s still being worked on,” he said about the awards season presence of minorities. “The Academy is trying to be more inclusive.” 

Whitaker also shared with the Davos crowd that he never plays the same role twice. “Each character is a chance to understand a different part of humanity, I’m trying to deepen who I am as a person and as an artist,” he explained. 

Among the other entertainers attending the World Economic Forum are Matt Damon, who on Tuesday discussed his efforts to fight the water crisis, and Shakira, who spoke at the Forum on Tuesday after also receiving the Crystal Award during the opening event Monday evening.