‘Godfather Of Harlem’ Star Forest Whitaker Talks About Malcolm X’s Close Relationship With Bumpy Johnson

Forest Whitaker is playing Bumpy Johnson, and Nigel Thatch is portraying Malcolm X.

(AllHipHop News) Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker is stepping into the shoes of legendary New York City gangster Bumpy Johnson for the upcoming EPIX drama Godfather Of Harlem. The period piece centers around the Charles “Lucky” Luciano associate’s return to his old neighborhood after serving time in prison.

Additionally, Godfather Of Harlem showcases the relationship between Bumpy Johnson and Muslim minister/political activist Malcolm X. AllHipHop spoke to Forest Whitaker about discovering the alliance between the two 1960s-era figures. 

“I had not been completely aware of the connection between Malcolm and Bumpy Johnson. That was something that I was learning as we were doing the research to get ready to do the project. And it grew and grew and grew and grew,” explained Whitaker.

The Black Panther star continued, “So that was interesting to me on a number of levels. I think one is when people are trying to rise up in a community where they feel like they have no options, what are their choices to be able to be successful. In another, what these two different men with different philosophies are doing in their minds, they uplift themselves.”

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Malcolm X faced alleged death threats from the Nation of Islam, a religious organization he once served as an influential leader. The man later known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was also under constant surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“It was really interesting because I guess there was a story that they told me that Bumpy had surrounded Malcolm with people as his bodyguard to protect him during a period of time,” Whitaker tells AllHipHop. “And Malcolm said, ‘I can’t do that one anymore. I can’t be represented, I can’t be connected to you.’ And [Bumpy] took those guys away about two weeks before Malcolm was killed. So that was really a striking thing that was said to me during that time.”

Godfather of Harlem is scheduled to premiere September 29 at 10 pm ET. The ten-episode series also features Vincent D’Onofrio, Ilfenesh Hadera, Nigel Thatch, Paul Sorvino, Giancarlo Esposito, Lucy Fry, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Antoinette Crowe-Legacy. Chris Brancato and Paul Eckstein wrote and executive produced the program. Forest Whitaker is credited as an executive producer as well.