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One could easily come away from a conversation with acclaimed actress Lynn Whitfield feeling she is quite too young to be saluted with the prestigious Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor she will receive on Friday Feb. 8th at the Taglyan Complex in Hollywood.
It seemed like only yesterday when Whitfield captivated Blacks with her unforgettable character ‘Brandi’ in the timeless classic ‘A Thin Line Between Love and Hate,’ a film that to this day captivates generations of audiences.
The role was one that she uniquely transformed into without following a script as she has done many times during a career that spans more than 30 years in the entertainment industry.
Whitfield’s portrayal of legendary international icon Josephine Baker in the HBO biopic immediately earned her global fame and she was won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Special or Miniseries for the role.
The daughter of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Whitfield has won five NAACP Image Awards and received four nominations for her work in television and film
Among her many television credits are roles in the Oprah Winfrey-produced miniseries, "The Women of Brewster Place" and “The Wedding,” respectively. She’s also attracted a new generation of fans in two of the Disney Channel's highest-rated movies, "The Cheetah Girls" and its sequel, “The Cheetah Girls 2.”
She went on to score critical success as the beleaguered wife of Samuel L. Jackson in “Eve's Bayou,” which is a story of a prominent Black Louisiana family. Other film credits include the Chris Rock vehicle, “Head of State,” Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Family Reunion,” and “Mama I Want To Sing,” a remake of the popular off-Broadway musical, as well as “Things Fall Apart,” produced by and co-starring rapper 50 Cent.
“Through her craft, she’s a wonderful storyteller. She brings a larger-than-life presence to all her roles, almost like she holding court, captivating audiences and delivering riveting performances each and every time,” praised Ayuko Babu, executive producer of the Pan African Film Festival.
However, after learning that she was selected to receive the PAFF highest honor more than four months ago, Whitfield realized an accomplishment that carries with it an enormous responsibility.
“It means a lot because here is a huge swatch and now I feel completely responsible to make myself worthy of the honor,” she told the Sentinel in an exclusive interview. “As an actress to continue to create characters that will keep touching people is very important to me.”
She understands that with experience comes growing older and as one continues in the business the portal becomes much more narrow and it forces her to finds stories and knock on doors.
Whitfield is no one step sister, she is enormously creative in development of writing books and treatments to keep the flame burning on a career that has never been without an Olympic size torch.
In fact she will have to fly in to receive the honor from PAFF and then fly right back out on the road where she will be working for the next few months.
When asked what it meant to her to be so honored by her own people, Whitfield had to gather her composure before answering the question.
“Why did that question touch my heart? The efforts that I have made to tell the truth, that I hope is quality---in the Africa Diaspora, that people enjoy it lifts me up. At the end of the day if I receive validation from my family which spans the continent of Africa, if I am being honored by the majority it is really major.”
She continued, “I feel that most of the work that I have do as an actress or being on the front line for President Obama, that of being a woman, being a mother, each one comes under the title of service. I feel my artistry must be of service.”
Whitfield campaigned for President Obama in the frigid cold in Ohio, knocking on doors during his reelection and then went to the inauguration to support The President.
“I believe that he is the man for the hour because he cares about 100 percent of the people in the country and not just 47 percent, “ she said of The President. “Voting and the decisions you make are all personal, so it is very important to vote.”
A single mother of a beautiful daughter, Grace Gibson who is aspiring to stardom in her own right as musician at Berkley College of Music on the east coast, Lynn Whitfield feels blessed.
“We are so blessed to be in the greatest country in the world,” reminded Whitfield.
And for Lynn Whitfield to be in it with us, what can possibly be better than that.