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Actor and Activist, Danny Glover
Moviegoers know him for his work in countless films from The Color Purple to the Lethal Weapon series. The world knows him for his passion and activism. A native Californian, Danny Glover was born July 22, 1947 in San Francisco, the son of James and Carrie Glover. He lived in a government housing project until age 10. He attended San Francisco State University where he originally wanted to be an economics major.
After catching the acting bug at age 28, he began taking classes with the Black Actors Workshop of the American Conservatory. He began appearing on the stage and honing his acting skills until his performance in the New York production of Athol Fugard's Master Harold and the Boys first brought him national recognition. While he made his film debut (though uncredited) in Escape from Alcatraz, his first notable performance came in Places in the Heart, with Sally Field and John Malkovich.
It wasn't until Steven Spielberg's Oscar nominated production of The Color Purple, a film based on the novel by Alice Walker and starring then-unknown Whoopi Goldberg, that he truly walked into the spotlight. Following that, perhaps his biggest success in film came in 1987, when he was paired with Mel Gibson for the immensely popular Lethal Weapon film series.
Mr. Glover received an NAACP Image Award, as well as an ACE Award for his performance in HBO's production of Mandela. He also received Emmy nominations for Best Supporting Actor for his roles in the television mini-series Lonesome Dove and for Turner Network Television's Freedom Song.
In 1990, he made his debut as executive producer in Charles Burnett's award-winning and critically acclaimed To Sleep With Anger, in which he also starred. He then went on to executive produce HBO's America's Dream series, Deadly Voyage, Buffalo Soldier and Freedom Song. Since that time he has appeared in numerous film and TV productions, in which he is noted for his warm and affable presence. Celebrating real people who have shown courage and bravery in moments of crisis, he hosted and executive produced Courage, which was selected by TV Guide as one of the Top Ten Inspirational Shows on Television in 2000.
Also a full-time activist, Mr. Glover's causes span from anemia awareness, AIDS crisis in Africa to mathematics education in the U.S. His involvement goes far beyond the typical charitable write-offs. In March 1988, the United Nations Development Program appointed him a goodwill ambassador. He is a major supporter of the TransAfrica Forum, the African-American lobbying organization on Africa and the Caribbean, and the Algebra Projecta math empowerment program developed by civil rights veteran Bob Moses.
In 1999, Glover launched a high-profile criticism of New York City taxicabs after numerous instances of being passed due to the color of his skin. He filed a bias complaint with the New York City Taxi Commission, which resulted in Mayor Giuliani's initiation of 'Operation Refusal,' an anti-bias investigation of New York City cabdrivers.
Not long ago, the award-winning actor and activist watched in agony as his father battled chronic kidney disease. His father was sapped of energy, constantly cold, tired, and weak; even a short trip to the market had become an insurmountable undertaking. Doctors soon discovered that his father also suffered from anemia. Soon after beginning treatment, his father regained much of his energy and his previous zest for life. As a tribute to his father, Mr. Glover is currently serving as the National Spokesperson for Anemia LifeLine.
forward by Romney Snyder
ABILITY Magazine's Chet Cooper had the opportunity to interview Mr. Glover while he was filming on location.
CC: Can you tell us a little about the film you are currently working on?
DG: I'm shooting a movie with Whoopi Goldberg that Ernest Dickerson is directing called, Good Senses. Basically, it's about a family in a quest to move forward. In the process, they are reminded there are sacrifices that you make and particularly that those sacrifices are different by the mere fact you are black or a person of color. They are forced to ask themselves how much of their own sensibility, or collective sensibilities, do you give up? So this is a story about how you see yourself in that struggle for success. How that struggle is framed. That's what the story is about.
CC: You mentioned collective sensibility. Do you believe there is a difference between the individual and the minority group?
DG: Yes, in a sense. You question how much of your collective sensibilities you have to relinquish. Essentially, how much of somebody else do you have to be? There is this notion of what is allowable, or a presumed prescription of how you must behave, and you have to decide to what degree you will embrace it. A person comes into the world, I guess we all do, with various cultural safeguards. We all are born within some sort of cultural, social, sociological as well as historical context and they will dominate or dictate what is happening around us. Then, when societal changes begin to happen, we are confronted with what we must embrace, and who we have to be, to take advantage of the opportunity of the change. Much of this is connected to the context in how you see yourself in relationship to power. If you see yourself marginalized or diminished by it, then certainly the leap that you have to make in order to take advantage of those opportunities is often greater. For example, the leap that women have had to make to assume some sort of position in the corporate world has been tremendous and they've often had to relinquish some of their own sensibilities in order to pick the mustard, so to speak.
CC: How do you feel the contexts of gender differ from racial contexts?
DG: Racial is very different because you begin with a feeling of 'less than' and there is a kind of bravado that comes with that feeling. I believe there is an element of overindulgence, or an enhanced capacity to embrace other cultural manifestations, and have those be the focal point of the definition of yourself. All that is connected into a deeply seeded social, cultural and political disenfranchisement.
CC: It's interesting that you mentioned the term 'leap.' I recently attended a L.E.A.P. event. The acronym stands for, 'Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics.' The event focused on how Asian Pacifics are dealing with their own struggles in context with becoming part of our culture in the United States. I see many similarities between what you've been addressing and their diminished view of oneself because of the way the culture is set. Similarly, I've been working with people with disabilities for over 10 years and have seen the issues that a person with a disability who is also a minority is confronted with. I am amazed at the stereotypes and the great degree to which discrimination still exists.
DG: Well, the whole quest of validation begins with the sense that fear is a diminished expectation and that we live in the shadow of the larger social cultural context. I'm referring to what I call power relationships, or empowered relationships. For as long as anyone remembered, probably from as far back as vaudeville, African Americans had been at the apex of any kind of cultural transformation this society has gone through. Music has been a kind of lightening rod for whatever transformations have occurred historically. Writers and cultural philosophers have talked about this from the beginning, at least the whole twentieth century, which any kind of mad movement in cultural reinterpretation has been led to some extent through the music and rhythm of African Americans. So how does that define people in terms of their relationships to power? In terms of the sports world, every kind of sport that has been elevated in some way to be a part of the twentieth century lexicon has been led by African Americans. Wherever we go, whether it's boxing, tennis, golf, football, basketball or baseball'.
CC: What about badminton?
DG: (laughs) Really though, all those things have fallen in the preview of which people have conquered, excelled or created a heightened sense of their own selves. To some extent, they've created a relationship, or a validation. Now it becomes especially important when you are in the shadows of a much larger social dynamic and social fabric, i.e. the examples of people embracing the images of Jesse Owens after the 1936 Olympics or the images of Joe Lewis after every fight he had, Archie Moore or Sugar Ray Robertson... all these people have become enormous icons because of their determination to succeed. Michael Jordan, Mohammed Aliyou can go on and on and on... but what is significant? What does that mean in a relationship to exercising fundamental powers to change peoples circumstances? Absolutely nothing. Because the forces that demand or define the whole area operate outside of that context. Let me explain. We will imitate sports heroes and pay them handsomely, but they have no real power. The sports heroes don't determine the federal budget and how the federal budget is appropriated. When people actually reach past that struggle of diminished expectations to achieve a heightened level, they feel like they are components of fundamentally changing something. They realize they can fundamentally change how they are accepted and how people respond to them. Whether they're disabled, women, or minorities, there is some sort of commonplace.
DG: So, there are some similarities. First of all, in terms of minorities, it's acceptance of who they are, and in changing the whole framework that exists in that acceptance. In terms of people that are disabled, it's that same framework of acceptance. The issue is about providing access and acknowledgment from the standpoint of who they are.
CC: Since you brought up living within the framework of a disability, can you describe your experiences going through school with dyslexia?
DG: I come to the table with many issues. One is certainly dyslexia. I also dealt with the images I had of myself [in relation to] what is considered acceptable, physically looking. The whole thing about dyslexia, in a sense, is that it made me feel as if I was in some sort unworthy to learn. I always felt that because I didn't have an appropriate way of dealing with that, I could not get beyond my feeling of being diminished, I didn't have an appropriate way of creating some kind of space for myself which was very important.
CC: How did you ultimately deal with that diminished feeling?
DG: One of the strengths I was fortunate to have was a capacity for numbers. That in a sense helped me in the short term... and I guess in the long term as well. It helped me focus on something that I could do well. I won't claim that I didn't suffer any less with reading or writing, it's just that I knew I did something well and sometimes you just need just a little inch to feel good about yourself. Honestly, no one probably ever noticed that I did a little better on math than my other subjects. At the time, there was no real process of diagnosing dyslexia. My seventh-grade counselor even told my mother that in her opinionwhatever that meansthat I was retarded. Those kinds of things can have some sort of effect on you in the long run. Perhaps education begins with feeling that people really care about you and maybe that's not part of what I felt.
CC: Do you believe those childhood experiences ultimately played a role in drawing you to deal with social issues as an adult?
DG: Well, not directly and yet maybe indirectly they did. If you can find value in yourself in doing something, then perhaps it will allow you to increase awareness about what is happening around you socially. When I saw peoplewho looked like mestand up to the most brutal situations and circumstances that was something to marvel at. They became people I was proud of, people I wanted to emulate... they were fascinating. You can imagine as an eight-year-old kid watching the Montgomery Bus Boycott unfold or watching young students take a stand against segregation and being humiliated. It made me angry and proud at the same time. So in that sense, social and political involvement came about from first seeing those images as a child. I wanted to seek out those people that reinforced me, or articulated something for me through their actions.
CC: You witnessed some amazing events that changed not only the future for African Americans but really for all Americans. Can you sum up how these experiences have contributed to who you are today?
DG: What did I know at 12, 13 or 14 years old when all this stuff was unfolding in front of me? What did I know about the South? I'd visited several times but I knew precious little about the intricacies of the working. I didn't understand the deep-seeded historically brutal racism. I had grandparents who were in their 60s by the time the civil rights movement went on, and to some extent they flourishedby flourished, I meant that they survived. I knew they lived through it, but I didn't know what all that entailed, what all that meant, you know? My mother, through her own sensibilities, left there after graduating from college. She knew there were greater possibilities that existed for her and like so many people of color and she said, 'I'm leaving.' So how was I able, given my whole diminished sense of self, to translate these images into being a better student? I don't know, but I certainly embraced them. Perhaps I embraced them long enough to understand one of the most important things about standing for something is that you are passionate about it. Maybe the passion is a bit stronger or a bit more uplifting than often your ability to decisively articulate it.
CC: You were drawn early on to tackling social issues and working within the community...
DG: Well, my early involvement was [with a] community development project. It's common that those who are going to be involved in community development would be those people that were the victims of this adverse affect themselves. Yet, at one point they were the ones who found an increased sense of themselves and pride because they were struggling to get something. On the other hand, I'm sure the people who took advantage of, and benefited most from, the Enron scandal and the other similar world business scandals do not look at themselves from the same standpoint. I am sure their first inclination is not to embrace people who are in unjust situations (laughs).
CC: (laughs) No, probably not!
DG: That's not a part of [who they are] because their inflated sense of themselves doesn't allow for it. Their inflated sense of their own power and their ability to wield it doesn't allow for them to have that kind of sense. I want to look at the world from the eyes of Martin Luther King or Fannie Lou Hamer. I want to look at the world from the eyes of people like Malcolm X or Paul Robertson, from the people whom I embrace. I still wish for my eyes be trained as keenly as theirs to look at the world. I assume that my survival is figuratively dependent upon my understanding of the world from their vantage point.
CC: How did you feel about transitioning from working in community development to theater? Did you find it difficult?
DG: I didn't think it was a difficult transition. Acting is a platform that can become a conveyer for ideas. Art is a way of understanding, of confronting issues and confronting your own feelingsall within that realm of the capacity it represents. It may have been a leap of faith for me, given not only my learning disability but also the fact that I felt awkward. I felt all the things that someone that's 6'3" or 6'4" feels and with my own diminished expectations of who I could be [and] would feel. Whether it's art, acting or theater that I've devoted myself to I put more passion and more energy into it.
CC: That's a good way to put it. Once your acting career took off, how did you become involved with the United Nations?
DG: The United Nations is something that I've applauded for much longer than I can remember. Maybe because in the long run, it's been there for children with UNISEF, or they've supported women with UNIFEM, and it's created what I believe to be an atmosphere of possibilities. All the grass is level. Some of the most innovative projects helping eradicate poverty or programs geared to changing a person's perception of themselves in relationship to poverty and self-sufficiency have been projects sponsored by the United Nations. All those have been things that inspired a greater transparency on some levels but a greater involvement by people around the world. If all the people in the world could see all the people of the world, we would have a greater understanding that we are just a very insignificant part of it all. While we are insignificant in terms of six-billion people, we are significant in that all our voices can be magnified and heard. I felt there was great possibility and wanted to know how I could be a part of it. I had done some work with the United Nations and I was obviously attracted to their programs so when they asked me to be the first Goodwill Ambassador I readily accepted the invitation.
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