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An Interview with Danny Glover
Known liberal political activist Danny Glover has 89 acting credits to his name. From his debut in Escape from Alcatraz (1979) and his television work throughout the 1980s, Glover first acted in films with few socially conscious attributes. Iceman (1984), Silverado (1985), Lethal Weapon (1987), Lethal Weapon 2 (1989). Other than the small television exception of Mandela (1987), Glovers first significant piece of political filmmaking was Charles Burnetts To Sleep with Anger.
This was followed by Bopha (1993), Queen (1993), Buffalo Soldiers (1997), Saw (2004), and others. While making these films Glover did blatantly mainstream, often reactionary, films such as Predator 2 (1990), Flight of the Intruder (1991), Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), Barnyard (2006), and several television shows. Amazingly, more than any other actor I can think of, certainly one with a strong political personality off screen, Glovers market-driven movies and politically conscious/independent films have remained separate. That is, until now.
In the 2007 film, Shooter, Glover plays Colonel Isaac Johnson, head of a paramilitary force working inside the U.S. government. Recently, people in the Horn of Africa have been getting in the way of corporate interests. This assertion of human rights needs to be squelched and Johnson thinks they can do it by using professional shooter Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) as a political dupe. Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) directed Jonathan Lemkins screenplay based on Stephen Hunters novel, Point of Impact. The films acknowledgement of U.S. government corruption at the highest levels is a narrative few big-budget Hollywood action films dare to venture.
Recognized around the globe for his humanitarian efforts and recipient of numerous awards and nominationsincluding the 2003 NAACP Chairpersons Awards and the 2004 BET Lifetime Achievement Award. I spoke to Glover about making movies and making differences.
ESTHER: Why did you want to make Shooter?
GLOVER: Well, Im an actor and somebody offered me a job. I liked the script. I liked the role. The director and I had some of the same ideas about the character and the story.
What do you think you have in common with the colonel?
I dont know if I have anything in common with the colonel. I try to fashion a character who has enormous power, the kind of power where he could do whatever he wants with impunity. And that he got the job done.
How politically relevant is this film?
Ill let the audience determine that. The content of a film certainly provides us with a thought/vision/something that we may have suspected. Does the film empower us simply by introducing us to a thought or reinforcing our thought? Yeah. It has a great deal of sensationalism that happens with an event. This event takes place over the course of four days. But what Im always interested in, and its one of the real patterns in which we see power exercised, is authority or empire that exercises authority. Empire has to do more than stand on the corner and say, Look how many guns I got. Look how many ships I got. That doesnt always scare people. Power has to find some way in which to reinforce itself through other means and sometimes the impositionthe placement of the guns and all of that, is very little.
Do you think the film goes far enough in how sinister some plans are executed in and from this country?
It goes far enough within the framework of the film. Its not a documentary. If we just focus on the sensationalism for a moment and the action, which is determined by the sensationalism, then its a good roller coaster movie. But its much more than that. Its not that simple. We shy away from understanding the complexities that happen. This happens on several levels at the same time. If you think, One moment registered with me or I feel something inside of me other than just a movie and maybe I better go and look up and read other material. The movie is relevant in some parts because there are a lot of issues right now around the Horn of Africa.
Over the years how have roles changed for actors of color?
Movies have changed over the years. That affects roles that are offered to actors of color. In terms of roles available, black women are still at the bottom when comparing men and women. It also seems that when we talk of an actor of color, were describing him or her as a crossover actor. One of the problems with the whole process is that were 300 million people in the world yet we export our culture across the planet. Often what it does is undermine the development of other cultures and other national identities.
Potentially there are more people of color in audiences than there are of people who are not of color. Theyre not demeaning roles for the most part, but if were still asking the question, then were still dealing with the other problems. We still have to deal with racism; certainly anytime it manifests itself within the industry. What happens in the industry is not inseparable from what happens in the general society. What stories are being told? Who decides what stories are being told, should be told, and are acceptable to be told? In some sense, that dictates our careers.
Is that something your company, Louverture Films, is addressing?
Were trying to realize a vision of storytelling. How do we now envision ourselves? Where is the balance shift? Where is the paradigm shift? What is the story about? Who are the primary characters? For the most part that is what we attempt to do. Another part is that we try to see ourselves as a part of world cinema.
What do you think about interviews where you talk about your work? Do you think it serves the film? Or do think the work should speak for itself?
It depends on how you want to look at the film. How you want to look at the work itself. If you ask what is my process, my work methodology, then its all right. If youre going to ask me whats the relevance of the film in todays world, that is fine, too. I would love to believe that a great deal of the work that we need to do is relevant to whats happening in the world. It cant simply be just entertainment. If you look at the great work, the great writers of the past like Shakespeare. His work is not just entertainment. He was commenting on society. Shakespeare was deconstructing power and human frailty. He was making some sort of analysis of his world. If we look at art from the vantage point of that, theres always a place to comment. I took a job but I thought there were elements in this story that I thought could be intriguing. But the basis is, were not sitting here unless somebody asks me to do it. I also have to work, not only to make a living, but also to keep alive my craft.
What usually happens with work is that we have to demystify it and what we do. Were placed on these pedestals. If what I do as a cultural worker is valuable then its important for me to assess the value of that work and its important for me to discuss it and why I think the work is valuable. Its an important question what youre asking, to talk about those things, and the work and have some sort of understanding of that work and what youre providing the audience.
John Esther is a freelance writer. [FYI, the top page of ZNet appears in the film.)
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CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
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