Black Nativity Movie cast Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett. © 2013 - Fox Searchlight

Q5: Black Nativity Movie Cast

Q5 with Gravity Movie Cast: Sandra Bullock & Alfonso Cuaron

Written by Mei Ling Nazar

Black Nativity, a contemporary adaptation of Langston Hughes’ play, is the story of Hughes (played by Jacob Latimore) who spends Christmas with his estranged grandparents, Reverend Cornell and Aretha Cobbs, played by Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett. While Hughes does not want to follow the Reverend’s rules, the entire family discovers the importance of reconciliation, forgiving one another, and faith. Risen talked with the cast about forgiveness, family, and living out an authentic faith.

Interviewed for Risen Magazine in Los Angeles, California

Risen Magazine: You have recently been in several films that have strong historical, faith and character messages. How important are these things to you when deciding to be part of a film?
Forest Whitaker: It is very important to me to feel like I am showing the face of humanity, bringing hope and that I am bringing clarity to some individuals that we might not know. I like being able to help others see behind the veil into someone’s heart. Part of my spiritual life is my work and my journey into finding the character and trying to find the connection. I seek God to guide me to be able to play this individual. A big part of my work is about surrender. At a certain point, I have to surrender to the character and trust through faith that God is going to reveal something. Those themes are very important to me, more than any other factor.

Black Nativity Movie cast Forest Whitaker © 2013 - Fox Searchlight

Black Nativity Movie cast Forest Whitaker © 2013 – Fox Searchlight

Risen Magazine: What is your personal faith story?
Forest Whitaker: I was raised in church. My grandfather was a preacher for 50 years. My father’s side is full of teachers and preachers. If you go to my family reunion, everybody is either a teacher or a preacher. I was brought up that way. The one thing that my mom did that I consider is really a great gift is that when I was a little kid [and we had to go to church] I would say, “I don’t want to get up. Why do I have to believe what you believe?” My mom in her great wisdom said to me, “You don’t have to believe in what I believe, but you have to believe in something. So get up!” She was right in that way. So in that respect my mind is open to understanding the connections between all traditions and people trying to become better individuals and more divine. It has carried that way through me all my life.

Risen Magazine: One of the defining moments in the movie is when your character is preaching and he says you have to love your enemies. Then your daughter’s ex-boyfriend walks in. How do we practically love our enemies?
Forest Whitaker: People have to recognize that when you hold these pains and anger inside yourself, you can never become completely free to forgive. It doesn’t mean that you have to say what was done was right, but you have to find that sense of forgiveness. I think that is one of the doctrines that is taught in all traditions, but certainly in Christianity–forgiveness. You can forgive the world because that is ultimately what God did for us. He forgave our sins. It is a powerful message. The big key again is forgiving that person. Sometimes people need to forgive themselves even for forgiving others. A person says, “I forgive. I’m letting that go.” And then they feel guilt because they didn’t let it go inside themselves. They didn’t truly forgive themselves. “You’re okay, even though you did this horrible thing to me.” There are a lot of lessons about forgiving of self and forgiving of others that we can learn in order to be truly free and complete.

Risen Magazine: There’s a lot of correlation between not just saying the words, but harboring that bitterness and not experiencing freedom. Your character lives with regret and has to face the consequences of his decision. Looking back on your life, what is one decision that you regret that you wish you could change?
Forest Whitaker: There are many things that I have regretted, but I try to let go. It happens to me even in small scale. It happened recently with my kids. I got angry. I raised my voice, and then I thought, “What kind of example am I setting for them?” I am working at becoming a better father and many times I think to myself, “Did I do the right thing? Did I make the right choice?” I did this yesterday. My daughter did something I wasn’t pleased with and I had just gotten back into town. She was asking me if she could go to a concert. I said, “I really shouldn’t let you go to this concert.” But she kept coming back to me. I have to give her so much credit, because she kept saying, “Okay, if you don’t want me to go.” She went and talked to her mom and said, “If you decide, Mom said it’s okay if I go.” So I said to her, “Okay, listen to me… we have to sit down and talk about what just happened this weekend [the unpleasing behavior]. [However regarding the concert] You can go now.” It took me a while, but it was through my daughter’s intervention that she allowed me to be mature enough to let her go.

Risen Magazine: Whether it is a preacher or being a person in the spotlight, there is that pressure to be perfect. What words of wisdom do you have for people to live an authentic faith?
Forest Whitaker: You have to remain true to your beliefs in every walk of your life. You have to recognize that there are things that will come at you in a way that you should celebrate your ability to stay true. I don’t think people do that. I think people look at it as, “I’m going to stick through it.” They aren’t thankful that they are able to do it. I don’t think people give themselves enough credit for staying true to their beliefs. In my life, not just my faith, but my acting career as well, I’ve tried to stay true to what I believe. There have been side steps I have taken with roles, but as a whole, I try to stay with what I believe and it has led me to where I am now. I feel very fortunate and blessed to be producing films that I feel proud of. I am very proud of Fruitvale Station, The Butler and Black Nativity. I stayed the course.

Black Nativity Movie cast Angela Bassett. © 2013 - Fox Searchlight

Black Nativity Movie cast Angela Bassett. © 2013 – Fox Searchlight

Risen Magazine: Your character deals with heartache when your daughter walks away from her family and faith. What words of encouragement do you have for those that are in a similar situation?
Angela Bassett: It can be really challenging and difficult. We can’t hold on too tightly to people. We have to allow people to discover and express themselves. To the best of our abilities, we have to try to not judge others and put ourselves in the seat of judgment. As long as there is breath, there is an opportunity for forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. We are born to be in relationship with one another. It is hard to do that when you shut down or shut someone out or cross someone off your list because they don’t agree with the way you think or see things. There are some things that we can take a hard line on if they mean a lot to us, but we are not clones of one another. It is exciting to think that there are different ways of looking at a situation. There are different perspectives.
Risen Magazine: How do you live out an authentic faith?
Angela Bassett: I try to live it out by remaining humble, grateful and appreciative. I have been trying to be more thankful lately. Whatever it is, I am trying to be thankful. Sometimes it’s what I want and expect, and other times it is not what I want at all. I am trying to find a way even when it isn’t what I want or the best circumstance, to find a way to be thankful. I want to be able to learn and grow from the situation personally. We grow best when we are tested and tried and come through it. It is hard to be thankful when it is falling apart and when people are gossiping about you.

Risen Magazine: As a mom what are your prayers for your kids?
Angela Bassett: My biggest prayer is not to mess them up. God gave them to us and we have to guide them and impart to them what we have learned. I always pray that good people would come into their lives. Whether it is friends or their future partner, I pray that good people would come into their lives. And when other people do, [I pray] that they would have a discernment to be wise and kind, but discerning. They are in second grade, but I already talk to them about peer pressure and prepare them for what they are going to see in high school. I pray that they would know which is the right way to go, and which is not the right way to go. My prayer is that they would have the courage of their convictions.

Interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Winter 2013

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