Whitaker was born on July 15, 1961 in Longview, Texas, the son of Laura Francis (née Smith), a special education teacher who put herself through college and earned two master's degrees while raising her children, and Forest Steven Whitaker Jr. , an insurance salesman. A DNA test has shown that his mother had Akan ancestry, while his father was of Igbo descent. When Whitaker was four, his family moved to Carson, California. Whitaker has two younger brothers, Kenn and Damon, and an older sister, Deborah. His first role as an actor was the lead in Dylan Thomas' play Under Milk Wood.