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Forest Whitaker takes command in new series ‘Emperor of Ocean Park’

I enjoy watching actor Forest Whitaker. He always plays a range of exciting and demanding characters. His previous films have been as Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland,”  as a celebrated warrior in “Black Panther,” the head butler in Lee Daniel’s’ “The Butler,” “Big George Foreman” and also lately as the conflicted family man and boss kingpin in “Godfather of Harlem.”

Now, he’s returning to MGM+ streaming as a celebrated attorney in “Emperor of Ocean Park,” which is set in the worlds of politics, elite Ivy League academia and the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard. 

This ten-episode dramatic tale is based on Black author and Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter’s best-selling 2002 novel. 

It centers on Talcott Garland, (Grantham Coleman), an Ivy League law professor whose quiet life is shattered when his father, Judge Oliver Garland, (Whitaker) dies of an apparent heart attack. The nature of the Judge’s death is questioned by Talcott’s sister, Mariah, (Tiffany Mack), a former journalist and inveterate conspiracy theorist, who believes that the Judge, a failed Black nominee to the Supreme Court, met with foul play.

“‘Emperor of Ocean Park’ is much more than a murder mystery,” said Michael Wright, head of MGM+, in a statement. “While it is an engrossing whodunit in its own right, it also explores important themes of middle- and upper-class Black identity, making it an outstanding addition to MGM+’s slate of engaging and thought-provoking original series.”

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FOREST WHITAKER AS Judge Oliver Garland, left, Grantham Coleman as Talcott Garland, top right, and Tiffany Mack as Mariah Garland.

As you can tell by the set up, this is a well-heeled family; all three adult children have much on the ball. But when Oliver dies, his family is left with a mysterious request around the so-called “Arrangements” that the Judge made in the event of his death and a missing chess piece. Talcott is being followed by what once was an old family friend, but who now seems to have sinister intentions. 

The series begins in the year 2007 and goes back and forth to the present day. The Judge has made friends with some unsavory characters during his career—one of them specifically with CIA connections. 

Oliver posits a far-right stance, and this appears to work against him in the past-day sequences. But all in all, he was presumed to be in good health at the time of his untimely death. 

The daily situations of the family members are further strained by an older son who is more concerned about his own dalliances with women, and Mariah who seems to want to score against her employer. 

But Mariah and Talcott go in, even after he narrowly missed being involved in a car explosion and what appears to be their constant pursuit by some unknown folks. 

I enjoyed watching this middle-class family going between their two estates and a background that could only be the University of Chicago. 

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AUTHOR AND YALE Law School professor Stephen L. Carter, upon whose book “Emperor of Ocean Park” is based.

“I’m excited to be playing Judge Oliver Garland, and thank John Wells, Sherman Payne, and Michael Wright for this opportunity to join the cast and crew of ‘Emperor of Ocean Park,’ as we bring Stephen L. Carter’s extraordinary novel to life,” Whitaker told Variety magazine 

“He [Judge Garland] is stern, intelligent, calculating, and proud. As a Black man in America, navigating unwelcoming and often hostile environments, he has formed a hard exterior—that he’s come to rely on as a shield. He is a devoted father whose commitment to his family simultaneously bolsters and undercuts his deeply and rigidly held conservative principles,” reads promotional material. 

Reportedly some filming was completed in Chicago. So for the few episodes that the Chicago Crusader was able to pre-screen, “Emperor of Ocean Park” is an incredible nail-biting and suspenseful thriller, with veteran actor Forest Whitaker as the centerpiece. 

“Emperor of Ocean Park” is set to premiere with its first episode on July 14 on MGM+, with new episodes airing on Sundays until September 15. 

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