by Frederick H. Lowe
The NorthStar News & Analysis
Veteran actor Danny Glover, who spoke Sunday at The University of Chicago during the school’s Annual Public Lecture Series, said the Academy Award-winning movie “12 Years a Slave,” deeply affected him.
“I was numb. I never saw anything like it before. I had to see it again,” said Glover, who began acting in film and television in 1979.
He said the film, based on the 1853 memoir “Twelve Years A Slave,” by Solomon Northup, would be hard for some to see and many would not see it. The book is Northrup’s own story. A free black man from upstate New York, who was married and the father of two children and who worked as an in-demand violinist, Northrup was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery. He worked as a slave on plantations in Louisiana for 12 years until he was freed by an order from the governor of New York.
“Some people are afraid to see the film because there is a lot of guilt and a lot of pain [about slavery],” he explained.
Glover added that if white actor Brad Pitt, who has a small role in the film, had not backed the movie with some of his own money, it probably wouldn’t have gotten made.
“There are 15 men who determine what we see, and we have got to change that,” he said. “We have to find new ways of distributing films.”
Glover made his comments during an interview with Jacqueline Stewart, professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago.
The two sat across from each other at low table on a stage at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. The chapel with its high ceiling and imposing stained glass windows made a dramatic backdrop for Glover to discuss his career and his opinions as the audience of academics, intellectuals, and members of Chicago’s communities sat quietly in pews, sometimes cheering his comments or seconding them with applause.
The only disturbing element of the event, which was sponsored by The Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, was that a white campus police officer who patrolled the chapel with his jacket pulled up on one side to show the audience that he was carrying a gun. Some members of the audience wanted to know why he was even there.
During his 90-minute talk, Glover discussed in a free-flowing style a wide-range of subjects. He talked about growing up in San Francisco and watching city officials use urban renewal as an excuse to force African Americas to move out of the city.
In addition, he discussed black studies programs at San Francisco State University, watching on television the voter- registration drives in Mississippi and the effect they had on him. He also talked about young black men, and how watching foreign films helped him to become an actor.
He landed his first major movie role in “Places in the Heart,” the same day his mother, Carrie, was killed in an automobile accident. His mother and his father, James, were employees of the U.S. Postal Service and they were both active in the NAACP.
“I dedicated the film to my mother,” Glover said.
“Places in the Heart,” a Depression-era film based in Texas, was released in 1984. Glover played a black farmer.
He also said he was stopped on the street by two black men who complimented him for his role in the 1985 Western “Silverado.”
“They asked me ‘weren’t you the guy in Silverado?’ ” He said that he was. The men told Glover they liked his role because he played a character who could take care of himself. His character in the film was named Mal.
Some of Glover’s other films include “To Sleep With Anger,” the popular “Lethal Weapon” series, “Witness” in which he plays a corrupt Philadelphia cop and the controversial “The Color Purple.”
A devoted activist
As much as Glover acts, he is also a committed activist. He is chairman of the board of TransAfrica Forum, the oldest African-American foreign policy organization, which was founded in 1977 during the anti-apartheid movement. He is a union activist, and he participated in a five-month walkout at San Francisco State University to establish a Department of Black Studies.
Glover is also a board member of The Algebra Project and The Black AIDS Institute. He also was a friend of Hugo Chavez, the late president of Venezuela, and he continues to pay dearly for that relationship.
He is making a film about global warming
Glover’s latest project concerns global warming. He wants to use the power of film to warn us about how this looming change to the environment will have a devastating effect on all of us, especially blacks and those living in poverty. The film’s working title is “This Changes Everything.”
“Global warming will affect the poorest countries; 40% of African countries are the most endangered by global warming,” said Glover, adding that “the power of film can bring this critical issue to people’s attention.”
After the grey-haired Glover finished his talk, he took questions from the audience. His answers were long, sometimes very long, and he got into a heated exchange with one man who accused Glover of receiving $28 million from the Venezuelan government to make a film about Toussaint L’Ouveture, the military genius who was the leader of the Haitian revolution.
Glover said he was offered $18 million on the condition he would raise another $12 million, which so far he has been unable to do.The unidentified man left the conference before it ended, but he stood outside Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, handing out literature that accused Glover of taking money from the Venezuelan government.
Haki R. Madhubuti, founder of Chicago-based Third World Press, however, summed up the afternoon for the audience, saying, “We are really glad you are here.”