Alum Forman portrays father in ‘Son of the South’

Class+of+1987+alumnus+Chaka+Forman+portrays+his+father%2C+James+Forman+Sr.%2C+in+Son+of+the+South

Courtesy of Chaka Forman

Class of 1987 alumnus Chaka Forman portrays his father, James Forman Sr., in Son of the South

By Sayan Sonnad-Joshi, Henry W. Grady High School

Chaka Forman, Class of 1987, stars in the new Spike Lee film “Son of the South.” The film portrays the grandson of a Klansman who eventually joins the Civil Rights Movement. This is the latest in a long list of films and TV shows Forman has acted in, ranging from Hyperion Bay” to “Harsh Times.”

Forman portrayed a familiar face, his father James Forman, Sr., a prominent civil rights activist who worked with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Filming, which started in April of 2019, consisted of Forman shooting in many of the places his father worked. 

Complex roles that aligned with Forman’s passions drew him in and are reflected in the projects he has chosen to pursue. He portrayed a jealous gang leader in the 2002 film “Local Boys.” He also played Tyrus, a college student turned cocaine mule, in the 2003 short film, “Swallow.” 

“Chaka was unapologetic and passionate about life,” Quinton Watson, a 1987 graduate and close friend of Forman said. “He was passionate about the social, political and civil issues of our time, and I think that is reflected in his work and career.”

His latest film is available on all streaming services now, including YouTube Movies and Amazon Prime Video.

Forman’s acting was influenced by many of the activities he participated in as a Grady student. He says at Grady, he learned important skills that he would use in college at Brown University, and later in his life and career.

“I was involved in many activities at Grady, mainly soccer and debate,” Forman said. “Through my activities at Grady, in which I was heavily involved, I learned a lot of skills which I still carry with me to this day.” 

Forman’s experience as a policy debater on the debate team provided many necessary skills of an actor.

“The experience I gained from debate was life-changing,” Forman said. “My experience with debate gave me more skills that I still use everyday than anything else in my high school experience. In particular, I learned speaking skills and the ability to think on my feet. Debate really set me up for my life ahead in many ways.”

However, as a high schooler, Forman never considered acting as a career choice. 

“Throughout my days at Grady and Brown University, I didn’t have much of an idea of what I wanted to do,” Forman said. “I was never locked into an idea for my career. Acting never really crossed my mind; I thought that I might want to be a lawyer.”

Forman’s former English teacher and debate coach, Lisa Willoughby, says she thought he would enter a career path related to civil rights. 

“I always thought that he would be a lawyer,” Willoughby said. “Specifically, a civil rights attorney. That is what he was passionate about, and he was always good at arguing through his time on the debate team.”

While attending Brown, Forman often visited the poet Maya Angelou, a family friend, who urged him to try acting.

“I was floundering a little bit at Brown, not knowing what I was going to do,” Forman said. “Auntie Maya [Angelou] was working at Wake Forest in Winston Salem, North Carolina at the time, and I went and stayed with her for a couple weeks. We had a lot of heart-to-heart conversations, and she said, ‘Why don’t you take up an acting class?’”

After college, Forman moved to New York and pursued acting as a career. His first role came soon after, in the hit TV Show “Hyperion Bay,” starring Dylan Neal and Carmen Electra. 

“At Grady, the teachers and students followed his career, and we were all excited about his successes in the acting industry,” Willoughby said. 

After “Hyperion Bay,” Forman continued to snag major roles, which eventually culminated in him making the decision to move to Los Angeles, where he has lived since.

His latest role in “Son of the South,” is his biggest so far. Forman described the opportunity to portray his father as a special moment in his career.

“Playing my dad was truly a powerful experience,” Forman said. “Being a part of this experience was really important, and was a very emotional experience for me. I was honored to be given the opportunity to try to channel his spirit, and I learned a lot about him and his work throughout filming.”

Outside of acting, Forman coaches his neighborhood high school’s soccer team, volunteers with incarcerated juveniles and gives speeches to his local community. 

“I realized my love of working with kids while at Brown and have been involved in many programs helping kids,” he said. “I work with incarcerated juveniles in the California Juvenile Court, which was a liberating experience for me. I also coach the local soccer team, which stems from my love of soccer since Grady.”

Forman’s friends respect his passion for bettering his community.

“He is truly one of the most generous people I know,” Watson said. “He is passionate about many causes and is always willing to help those who need it. He really cares about his friends and his community.”

Forman is optimistic about what the future holds, both for his career and within his community.

“I want to see change, and there is a lot I want to accomplish in the future,” Forman said. “I want to continue my work with incarcerated juveniles and coaching the local soccer team. I also want to establish a debate team in my local high school. The most important thing is I want to help Generation Z and really see change and equality in our culture.”

This story was originally published on The Southerner on March 26, 2021.