Ugandans laud Whitaker for Oscar

By Tim Cocks

Kampala - US star Forest Whitaker deserved his Oscar for a performance as Uganda's murderous former dictator Idi Amin that was both realistic and a crucial reminder of the country's bloody past, Ugandans said on Monday.

Whitaker, 45, won the Academy Award for best actor for his role in British film "The Last King of Scotland", the fourth black performer to do so in Oscars history.

The film sold out as it hit the box office in Kampala last Friday, a week after a VIP showing in Uganda attended by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who fought Amin as a guerrilla.

In his performance, Ugandans said, Whitaker brought out the ruthless ruler's complex character - lurching between being warm and comical to being a brutal, paranoid monster.

"He really deserved to win. He did it exactly like Amin," said Rashid Lubega, 19, a student too young to remember Amin's 1970s rule but who saw documentaries about him. "It is amazing he is American but manages to be so African in that role."

The film, shot in Uganda, tells the fictional story of a friendship between Amin and a young Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, who is lured by the dictator's power then cannot escape as he realises the bloodshed going on around him.

About 300 000 people were tortured, killed or "disappeared" in Amin's police state. Relatives of his victims said they found the film hard to watch because Whitaker's Amin was so real it brought back disturbing memories.

Museveni, who said the film's premiere was his first visit to a theatre in 47 years, applauded the US actor.

"I salute Mr Whitaker," Museveni said. "He was a real Amin - the mannerisms, the alternating between buffoonery and devilish cunning. That was what he was like."

Whitaker said he was "overwhelmed" by winning. Ugandans who worked with him on the set were equally delighted.

"We are very excited that the movie has done so well," Abby Mukiibi Nkaaga, who plays Amin's top henchman, told Reuters.

"He (Whitaker) did a wonderful job. I am hoping Uganda will have more film opportunities out of this."

The film's title makes reference to one of the grandiose titles Amin frequently bestowed on himself.

"I really want to see it. It is good people in Uganda born after Amin can learn about our history," said Ashura Ahmed, 34, a boutique owner who tried to buy tickets when it was sold out.

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