Friday, July 29, 2011

Danny Glover: Noted actor and activist comes to Texas for appearance at local high school

Glover at Cannes Film Festival

Glover as Deets in Lonesome Dove
Danny Glover is an  actor and outspoken political activist. He has been acting since 1979 in movies, TV and on Broadway. He trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre. He made his big screen debut in Escape From Alcatraz, 1979. He went to act in other roles but The Color Purple (1988),  co-starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, made him a household name.

Of all the movies he’s starred in The Color Purple was the most controversial. African Americans were not happy with “Mr”, the character Glover portrayed. He went on to star with Winfrey in Beloved and later in an HBO movie called Good Fences starring himself and Goldberg.

Sitting down to this interview, I noticed that Glover was somewhat uptight when I  mentioned The Color Purple. He braced himself for a verbal reprimand and scrutiny of his role. Unfortunately, Glover was summarily attacked by female interviewers, critics and moviegoers who hated "Mr." so much they took their anger out on him. He and Whoppi Goldberg were openly snubbed at the NAACP's Image Awards. Of course, there are characters like "Mr", in every nationality all over the world. However, many African Americans are extremely sensitive to these "airing dirty laundry" characters on the big screen.

Upon seeing that I had no intention of going for his throat because of a role he played with so much believability, he relaxed and the interview turned out well. Glover was talkative and opinionated.

Mel Gibson and Glover in Lethal Weapon
In the Lonesome Dove mini series Glover played Joshua Deets, an ex-slave and scout during the civil war era. The mini series hit was on CBS, and started February 5, 1989. Glover struck big-screen gold when he paired up with Mel Gibson in the Lethal Weapon series in 1987, 1989, 1992 and 1998, all of which were box office hits. If you are familiar with Glover's career, then you know that his movie, TV and stage credits are too numerous to list on this blog. 

In this 1989 interview Glover and I talked about a few of his movies, and why he took the roles he did. Glover was in Austin, Texas to give a pep talk to students at Kealing Junior High School, where he got an enthusiastic reception for students and staff.

Dorothy: How did you get the role in the Lonesome Dove series? Who was Joshua Deets?

Glover: Joshua Deets is a very honorable man, and had been a scout for the Texas Rangers throughout the period of the civil war. He was an exslave. There was kind of an integrity about him, a strength about him.

Dorothy: What attracted you to the role?

Glover: First of all it was a good script. The first thing I consider is what the script is like, the character, the theme of the script, the integral  part of the script. The Lonesome Dove script was well written. It’s a vivid fictionalized period in this country’s history. Then the character is a real nice character.

Dorothy: Was the character originally written for an African American?

Glover: Yes. It’s an adaption of a novel.

Dorothy: Does it depict you in a positive image rather than some other image you might see a Black man playing?

Glover: I think so. I think he’s heroic if that’s a positive image. Certainly I would have liked to know more about the road Deets traveled to become who he was. That wasn’t part of the script. I would like to know what was Deets story. Not from a year ago, but from five or ten years ago. He was gentle. He was kind. He was heroic from the stand point that he’s a fighter, and he knew how to defend himself.

Dorothy: What character or event in your life did you draw on to play the role? It’s not everyday that Blacks have a cowboy experience or live the lifestyle.

Glover: It’s so much that comes into your life sometimes that you can draw from. Your imagination is one of the most important ingredients. You put someone on a horse and you can quickly see the erection of the body. You define it differently just by the way you sit in the saddle. You sit with dignity. I’ve seen cowboys that look like they are broken down when they are walking. But when they are on a horse there is a certain majestic majesty about that .  .  . being on a horse. That in itself gives you something to work with. I’ve been around Black cowboys for the last two years. I was the Grand Marshall for the Bill Pickett Rodeo, which is a national rodeo.

Dorothy: Okay, this movie has caused you some headaches. You know I am fixing to talk about The Color Purple . . .

Glover: The Color Purple (we both laugh) I was in Hong Kong during international publicity for Lethal Weapon about a year ago, and some people came to see me who wrote for a newspaper. They said (he imitates a Hing Kong news reporter) ‘You in The Color Purple!”

Dorothy: The character was so controversial and memorable.

Glover: Well, I think there is controversy behind everything you do, like the choices you make. I did it in Places From the Heart, a very beautiful film. I was in Chicago and not one Black publication showed up to interview me. White publications showed up. So either they didn’t think it was worth their time to come and interview me, or the film was controversial.

Dorothy: What do you think “Mr” was saying in The Color Purple?

Actor Danny Glover
Glover: I think "Mr." is a man in transition. In some ways he represents men in their transition in their relationship with women. When you are the dominant person in any societal situation, and are constantly dealing with it . . . you have that dominant supportive or dominant subjective relationship--you have people struggling to change that. Women have been in situations where they tried to change the thinking of men for a long time. A very long time. And certainly that is the transition that we see.

I think that’s what The Color Purple is about. I think its about people who began to learn to love themselves, to appreciate themselves. Because of that they begin to grow. That’s how I saw this character. I saw him, like all human beings, who come into this world are capable of loving and maturing. Somewhere in the back of his psyche, somewhere in the process of his socialization, because of that period of time and his upbringing, he wasn’t able to simplify those particular feelings. I think that’s the character that Alice (Walker) wrote. I think not enough attention was given to that aspect (of Mr.) We are people. We are men in transition.

I was in Chicago at Martin Luther King School, and over 50 percent of the young black girls there had been molested by their mama’s boyfriends, stepfathers, fathers. That’s real. We have to begin to deal with. We can’t sit it in a corner. We can say it belongs there. It’s not supposed to be out there. That’s  bull! We have to address it. We have to look at ourselves. It’s enough to say the white man did this, the system did that, but there is a humanity that we have to call on in ourselves. We have to address that. We h ave to be responsible for that.

Dorothy: Do you think the Black community is denying that we have characters like “Mr.” in our communities?

Glover: I think because of the oppressive conditions that we weathered, because of the stereotypes that we weathered, we find it hard to make that adjustment. We find it hard to deal with the negative, always looking for positive images. All societies, all cultures want to see themselves in a positive, heroic venue. We are not unlike any other people. Because of the battering of racism and oppression in America, we grab onto this and we protect it in a sense. We are sensitive in a sense. I understand that.

The whole history of American film has been one that created derogatory, negative images of Black people. From Birth of A Nation to before Birth of A Nation. These things exist, and we have learn to confront them, live with it and deal with it. When we confront it we have chance to say this is where we are, this is where we have to go.  Whatever the story we are talking about, whether it’s The Color Purple, or some other fictionalized story. “Mr.” is not the archetype of Black men. And Alice didn’t write the story intending for him to be that.

A lot of the discourse and discussion that came out of this movie is necessary. It’s mandatory. I think it’s a vehicle to say in this industry, to say to people in this country that we are not getting the chance to present who we are in this medium. When I say people say to me I saw you in The Color Purple, that’s world-wide. I’m in business of projecting images. I’m in the business of telling history through the projection of those images. It’s important that we become an integral part in deciding what those images are. I want those images to be full. I want the images to  go through conflict. I want them to be men learning to change. I don’t want them to men coming down from Mt. Olympics, coning down to show us the way. I want to see real men exhibiting their own humanity.

Dorothy: If Blacks want to get these positive images in the movies, do you think they’ll  have to do it themselves rather than depend on someone else?

Glover: We’re dealing with this on the wrong terms. I’m talking about positive images, and there are certain definitions about positive images. I’m talking about human beings, not caricatures. Human beings have doubts, faults. Human beings have good things about them. See, that’s the problem I am having. I have trouble with that word ‘positive images’. Life is conflict, and overcoming conflict. We grow in stature. We grow in our sense of self. Our humanity grows, and it grows by the way we deal with conflict.

Dorothy: As a success story do you feel obligated to be a role model for youngsters who are  heading in the wrong direction?

Glover: I have a responsibility to the Black community whether I’m Danny Glover or not. Just because I’m successful it doesn’t heighten or lessen my responsibility. The fact that I am a human being who grew up in the community, who was nurtured by a community of Black people all my life, giving me the substance–it is my responsibility to pass that on to other people.

Dorothy: Do you think communities should go back to the days when neighbors looked out for each, especially children?

Glover: I think the way we can maintain values brings us together. It brings us a sense of  extended families in the sense of community.

Dorothy: What do you think of Jesse Jackson running for president? What has it done for the spirit of Black people?

Glover: It’s incredible to see that happen. Whatever he does, he bring attention to the issues, the problems. Jesse has always done that. The benefits are enormous for us today; they are enormous for our future, and certainly for our kids future.

Dorothy: Where do you think you’ll be about five years? How much longer do you want to act?

Glover: Right now I just don’t see an end to acting, but there are some other things I want to do. I think the attention that I’m getting  now is momentary. That is going to change. People are going to get tired of seeing me. That’s real. I think it’s something I can pretty well adjust to and handle. I don’t know what’s going to happen in five years. Hopefully, if God is willing, I’m still with everyone (alive).

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