Uganda votes for Whitaker Oscar but criticises Amin film

JUST DAYS before Hollywood's elite gathers for this year's Oscars, Ugandans hailed best actor nominee Forest Whitaker's portrayal of Idi Amin, though were quick to frown on a forgiving light in the former dictator's portrayal.­

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Published: Sat 24 Feb 2007, 9:50 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 8:41 PM

The 45-year-old US actor is seen by many as the front-runner for best actor Oscar for his role in the screen version of the acclaimed novel 'The Last King of Scotland.' ­

Whitaker, who learned to speak Swahili for the part, has already collected Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for his depiction of a larger-than-life, contradictory east African despot.­

But the praise here was tempered by concern that Hollywood glossed over many of the most notorious aspects of Amin's bloody eight-year reign that left hundreds of thousands dead.­ "Whitaker was splendid in his role, for sure he left me wondering how an American somehow mastered Amin's accent," said former teacher George Luwaga.­

Uganda playwright Alex Makuru agreed.­ "I think Forest Whitaker should win the Oscar because he presented Idi Amin in a way that made you think he was Ugandan. He deserves the Oscar," he said.­

Even Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni lauded Whitaker's ability to capture the dualities of Amin, who was rumoured to have kept the heads of political rivals in his refrigerator.­

"I salute the actors, most especially Mr Whitaker. He was real Amin, capturing his mannerisms and alternating between buffoonery and a deadly person who could address a press conference here when his henchmen were killing people behind," Museveni said.­

But many who attended the movie's official African premiere in Kampala on February 17 alongside Museveni, Whitaker, and award-winning director Kevin Macdonald felt historical facts were given short shrift.­ Among them was Ugandan legislator Matthias Nsibuga. "I don't think they made enough research about the era they wanted to cast," he said.­

During Amin's rule, which followed a 1971 coup that deposed president Milton Obote, between 300,000 and 500,000 people are thought to have been killed, many of whom are rumoured to have been fed to crocodiles in Lake Victoria.­

The dictator drove 80,000 Ugandans of Asian origin out of the country, saying God commanded it in a dream. The ensuing mismanagement of their assets led to a vast economic meltdown in Uganda.­ "I expected some important features of the Amin era to be highlighted in the movie," Nsibuga said.­

"Issues like the expulsion of the Indians were just merely mentioned and Amin's invasion of Tanzania and the eventual toppling of his government are not in the movie, which is disappointing," he added.­

'The Last King of Scotland' drew its title from Amin's pyschopathic belief that he should take over from Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as monarch to the Scots.­

Mukyusa Jjengo, a journalist who worked under Amin, said he was disappointed that there was not more political context in the movie.­ "The movie is all about Hollywood, not about the forces that brought Amin and sustained him in power," he said after a screening of a pirated copy of the film at one of several makeshift theatres in the capital's slums.­ "It is all about how a white man copes in an African situation," he said.­

The six-million-dollar (4.9 million-euro) movie, shot entirely on location in Uganda, is based on Giles Foden's award-winning novel about Nicholas Garrigan, a Scottish physician who becomes the dictator's personal physician.­

Flattered at first by his command appointment, the physician, played by James McAvoy in his first major screen role, is horrified to discover his unknowing complicity in the savage crimes of Amin, who in real life died in exile in Saudi Arabia in 2003 of multiple organ failure.­

Whitaker is competing for a best actor Oscar against Leonard Dicaprio for 'Blood Diamond,' Peter O'Toole for 'Venus,' Ryan Gosling for 'Half Nelson' and Will Smith for 'The Pursuit of Happyness.'

He is one of a record five black actors who have been nominated for acting Oscars at Hollywood's big night on February 25, along with Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy, Will Smith and Djimon Hounsou.­ If he wins, he will only be the third African-American actor to take the prize in 78 years.

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