Danny Glover: Artist & Activist
SCN caught up with Danny Glover walking down Flower Street in Downtown Los Angeles. The 6’4’ actor is towering and humble at once. His salutation is a standard greeting that is southern hospitality mixed with California cool—“How you doing, baby?”
Glover is most widely known for his role in the Lethal Weapon franchise Since 1979, Glover’s films have grossed over $1.3 billion dollars. He donated $1 million to TransAfrica-the nation’s largest pro-Africa Lobby group during his tenure as board president.
Glover like his actor-activist mentors, the late Ossie Davis and Harry Belafonte, has never garnered an Oscar or a nomination for that matter. When asked if he has been punished for his activism, Glover shrugs his shoulders, “Baby, I do not know. I have been blessed at some level not to have all of the attention. I get chance to do the kind of films that I really want to do and support the kind of causes that I want to support with out a bunch of agents looking over my shoulder.” With firm resolve he clarified it all, “I was an activist before I was an actor”, he boasted.
At one level , activism is in his blood, both of his parents were active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Glover was born in San Francisco, CA on July 22, 1946. Although he was born and raised in San Francisco, he spent most of his childhood summers in Louisville, Georgia. He, fondly, recalled his time with his grandmother on their ancestral land.
After graduating from San Francisco State University, Glover became a program manager for the San Francisco model cities program. The unionized city worker’s responsibilities included monitoring job programs for at risk youth.
Glover’s films and activism are celebrated the world over. During a trip in 2006, I attended the World Social Forum, which was held in Bamako, Mali in his stead. Mali’s prime minister Ousmane Issoufi Maïga introduced me to a roomful of African heads of States as “the envoy of Danny Glover”. Prime Minister Maïga gleamingly noted “Danny is greatly loved by the people of Mali,”. Glover supported the Malian Ministry of Culture as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations. He produced and made a cameo in a film titled for the capital city. Bamako depicts a trial along side the daily life of the city. The trial considers the role of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in the current financial state of many poverty-stricken African countries. Accordingly, “The crisis in global capital is unsustainable,” posited Glover, a Center for Economic and Policy Research board member.
From a distance you could see his lanky frame floating down the sidewalk with a big smile. Perhaps, it was because he was holding hands with his wife, Eliane Cavalleiro, a Brazilian author and professor of education. Their love is born of struggle. They met at another World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Meeting in January at the same time, the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the World Social Forum (WSF) is an annual meeting of civil society organizations held by global justice movement. Held in various countries in the Global South to coordinate global campaigns, WSF participants share and refine strategies about movements from around the world and their particular issues. Cavallerio has written two books on the politics of race in Latin America and Glover’s work with UNESCO and TranAfrica made them WSF attendees and ultimately, soul mates.
Glover and Cavallerio were coming from lunch with James and Miriam Early. Mr. Early is a Glover’s long time confidant. When Early is asked to describe Glover’s activism, he gives a full throated endorsement, “In unswerving solidarity-collaboration across the nation and world, Danny Glover consistently lives a daily life as a community-connected activist of enormous social empathy for participatory-democracy and justice-peace. He is committed to fostering every-day people using their imaginations, creativity, and moral force to change their lives and the world.”
Yet Early, former board chair of the Institute for Policy Studies, is very protective of Glover. Early has cautioned Glover when he is about to take certain political action, which could be damaging to his acting career. “Danny exposes himself in ways that have cost him financially, but the brother is committed to serving,” Early concedes with joy.
One such risk was on the opening night of his film, Death at a Funeral. On Friday, April 16, 2010, at a huge protest outside of the U.S. headquarters of Sodexo, Inc., in Gaithersburg, Md. Glover, who co-starred in the film, was arrested with 11 other people, including Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees Industrial Union. The protest was called because Sodex’s, an international food services company, was vigorously opposing the right to organize a union. “I did not plan to get arrested on opening night”, Glover confessed during a phone interview. “But”, he continued, “It was the right thing to do.”
Sources close to Glover suggest that it was not a good idea—indicating that the Death at a Funeral producers were furious. Friends believe that such actions may have hurt Glover’s acting career in the past and continue to haunt him. While Oscar winning actor, Jamie Fox has celebrated Glover as the “Dean of African American Actors”, Glover has yet to be nominated for an Oscar. His two Broadway appearances have left him trophy-less as well.
Glover’s first Broadway appearance was in Athol Fugard’s play, Master Harold and the boys, which opened in 1982. Master Harold takes place in St. George’s Park Tea Room in apartheid era South Africa. In Fugard’s scathing indictment of apartheid, Glover made his Broadway debut as Willie, the younger of two men working in the tea room. Twenty years later, Glover returned to Broadway in Master Harold, as Willie’s older co-worker, Sam.
Having witnessed Glover’s revised role as Sam, one was struck by the quiet dignity yet confidence in his portrayal. The political content combined with the artistic genius of the fiery South African playwright was key to Glover’s development into an actor-activist. “Fugard gave me my voice,” Glover noted. Glover was introduced to Fugard as a student activist at San Francisco State. “Fugard work was space that I could bring all of me,” he recalled. New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley characterization of Glover’s 2003 performance is more than flattering. Brantley writes that Glover “emerges with a presence so enhanced that it verges on the monumental. He doesn’t coast on dignity, though. This is gravitas rendered in shades of gray.” Toward the end of his review, Brantley offers a summation of Glover’s performance and his way of being in the world, “Mr. Glover suggests a man for whom calm is an existential choice in a violent society.”
-Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou