by Rachel Vancelette for Urban Mindz
Following the current trend toward big production television, Forest Whitaker is recreating the turbulent period of the 1960’s, giving audiences a film rich in many historical layers of New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. In the new crime drama on EPIX, 'Godfather of Harlem', Whitaker gives audiences a vivid portrayal of New York’s infamous American crime boss, Bumpy Johnson. His leap into television carries the weight of his decades-long stellar career as one of Hollywood’s most celebrated and beloved actors.
Known as an actor, producer, and director, Whitaker has earned his well-deserved, unparalleled reputation for brilliant work and character studies, appearing in over 50 feature films including Bird, The Crying Game, Platoon, Ghost Dog, The Great Debaters, and The Butler. Whitaker more recently appeared in blockbusters such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Black Panther. His many awards include a BAFTA, Golden Globe, and he is one of only four black actors to have ever received an Academy Award for Best Actor. He earned this award in 2006 after his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.
Writer/Producer Chris Brancato, known for award-winning hits like the 'Narcos' TV series, has executed a brilliant script depicting the story of mobster Bumpy Johnson set during the time of Malcolm X’s political rise in New York, during a tense time of social upheaval. A mob war threatens to tear apart New York City with violence and drugs as Whitaker’s character sees that his old neighborhood in Harlem has been taken over by the Italian mob when he returns home from a 10-year prison sentence.
In an interview, Brancato addressed the difficulty of recreating the original streets of Harlem during the1960’s commenting that computer rendering had to take place to make major adjustments to the backdrop. The new real estate renaissance in Harlem in the last years has left it looking like a very different landscape today. Producers wanted to ensure that Harlem itself was the star of the show, and Chris Brancato worked tirelessly to present all facets of life during that time.
Whitaker states about the character that he plays in his role, “I stay true because whatever the project is, I’m still looking for the character.” Since his Best Actor nod, every time a fourth-quarter film drops with him in it, greatness is expected. He acknowledges the pressure with a sense of humor, but always brings his aura and greatness into every project.
‘Godfather of Harlem’ premiered September 29 on EPIX and airs at 10PM EST. The ten-episode series also features Vincent D’Onofrio, Ilfenesh Hadera, Nigel Thatch, Paul Sorvino, Giancarlo Esposito, Lucy Fry, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Antoinette Crowe-Legacy. Chris Brancato and Paul Eckstein both wrote and executive produced the project. Forest Whitaker is credited as an executive producer as well.