Danny Glover’s cinematic gravitas has made him one of Hollywood’s most talented and renowned actors. Through some of his most notable roles in movies (such as in The Color Purple (1985), Beloved (1998), and the Lethal Weapon franchise (1987-1998)), he has incited anger, sympathy, compassion, and laughter. However, acting is only one part of his vibrant and prodigious legacy. Glover is a producer, humanitarian, and political activist. Through these many endeavors, Glover’s legacy can be summed up in two words “citizen engage´.”
Citizenship does not simply end with birthrights and country of origin. Citizenship also encompasses notions of dutifulness and responsibility. Essentially by being a citizen, one is expected to be active and engaged in their community’s social and civil affairs, at least according to Glover, a belief he holds dearly. Glover is a citizen engage´, or engaged citizen as Michael T. Martin, Director of the Black Film Center/Archive, ascribed to him during the interview. They sat down to chat about Glover’s upcoming role in the Good Catholic, his acting roots, love for world cinema, his production company, and his humanitarian and activist efforts.
Glover was in Bloomington, Indiana in January of this year to film the Good Catholic, a romantic comedy, produced, written and directed by four Indiana University alumni: co-producers Zachary Spicer, John Armstrong, and Graham Sheldon, and writer Paul Shoulberg. Glover stars as a priest alongside John C. McGinley and Spicer who also play priests, and love interest, Wrenn Schmidt. Glover seemed delighted about his role and the script and credited his interest to great writing and the casting director’s conscious decision to cross-color cast him for role.
“The writing was just amazing, wonderful”
Glover got his first taste of stage performance at 20 years old as a student at San Francisco State University (SFSU) performing at a nearby college. He recalls it quite vividly:
“I remember that first performance, at the Merrick Junior College we had a stage there, the first time I went on, and I walked by Amiri, and really my relationship was somewhat abstract, somewhat distant and everything else. He said ‘have a good performance.’”
He was referring to the legendary author/poet/playwright/activist, Amiri Baraka, who was also considered to be one of the leading voices of Black theater at the time. What was seemingly a perfunctory gesture became more of a confirmation that validated the young actor’s purpose. Acting and activism took on new meanings for him. Soon after, Glover became more involved with the Black Student Union at SFSU, which was the first Black Student Union in the country, where he was responsible for bringing guest presenters and Black theater to campus. It was at SFSU, through theater and involvement with the BSU that ignited a flame of political activism, fanned by race, politics, and performance.
Political activism resonated with Glover and it became a source of inspiration for his acting: “It’s kind of been my moral guide in terms of what I’ve been able to do. I feel that the work I do has value to it; therefore, it connects to my sense of myself as a citizen and [as] an artist as well.” He attributes South African playwright, Athol Fugard, as having a major influence on his acting. “I’m not an actor as my career has translated itself if it [had] not [been] for Athol Fugard.” Fugard’s Anti-Apartheid-centric work not only resonated with Glover politically, it connected with him artistically as well:
“I think I discovered my own self value and my own importance of art itself reflected in that. It’s only [an] extension from what we were trying to do with Amiri Baraka in some sense…by the time I’m 29, 30 years old, I had been able to calculate that in a different way.”
In addition to acting, Glover’s political fervor and interests in world affairs has carried over into the realm of producing. In 2004, Glover and business partner, Jocyln Barnes, started Louverture Films, a production company geared toward producing independent films with historical relevance and social purpose. So far they have produced Cemetery of Splendor (2015) and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), by Thai director, Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul and The Time That Remains (2009) by Palestinian film director and actor, Elia Suleiman, with several other films in the works. As Danny puts it: “Certainly the mission is to do relevant, historically relevant, socially relevant movies.” Not only are they going for relevancy, they also want to make films that are provocative. Films like The Shadow World (2016), a documentary (Dir. Johan Grimonprez) based on the book by Andrew Feinstein on global arms sales, and Eugene Jarecki’s The House I Live In (2012), which was about the war on drugs, are examples of the kinds of jarring uneasy movies Glover speaks of.
“I think that’s the mission of our company is to make people uncomfortable.”
“I don’t think anyone does what we do… When I went to a church in Newark of about 800 people, I saw all the people who were stakeholders or involved in it, whether it was the grandmothers who had taken care of children, whether it was the actual victims of the war on drugs, whether it was the counselors, or the children themselves, all of those things met at that particular moment and said how do we use this? How do we use this in our platform whether it’s organizations about the sentencing project? How do we use this now to explain what is happening? …I think that’s the mission of our company is to make people uncomfortable.”
Without a doubt, Glover’s activism resonates through his work. However, it is not only through film we can see his passion for civil engagement, we also see it through his humanitarian efforts all over the world. He has participated in protests in South America, vocalized concerns about housing issues in his hometown of San Francisco, and recently he has been actively campaigning for Bernie Sanders. Whether it is fighting against oppression or championing economic or political reform, the core of Glover’s activism is simply being a citizen. This seems to be one of the utmost values he holds:
“…before I was an actor or an artist I was a citizen, and I remained a citizen… I do not, in any way, abdicate my responsibility as a citizen because I may be visible. There are artists who do incredible things in the service of being citizens who aren’t visible. Am I supposed to say shut up and sit behind whatever gilded gate I may have and everything? No. I don’t do that.”
Glover has come along way since his first performance as a college student. He has become an artist, a purveyor of cultural films, an aficionado of Black theater, a voice advocating rights and fighting injustice, and a humanitarian. His artistry influenced by his beliefs and his beliefs added value to his art. The strand that seemed to tie it together was a need to be a dutiful citizen, a role that he was born to play.
~Roosevelt T. Faulkner