Even without the slap crap that has given the Oscars affair this year renewed attention, there was little chance that Danny Glover’s award would be noticed. Like several other notable moments, the “CODA” award for best picture and Ariana DeBose Best Supporting Actress (a first for a Latinx and gay in the category), and Questlove’s “Summer of Soul” pulling down the Best Documentary honor, Glover’s tribute was lost in the clamor and drama surrounding Will Smith’s smack-attack on Chris Rock.
Glover, as one of several recipients of Governors Awards, was honored along with Samuel Jackson, Elaine May and Liv Ullman, and given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for all that he has done in film and elsewhere to bring credit to society in general and specifically to the motion picture industry. As expected the award ceremony was not planned for the broadcast and later amid the brouhaha did get a quick mention.
In the world of film, Glover has been a standout since his role as Mr. in “The Color Purple,” though movie buffs, particularly those deeply committed to Black films, recall his work in such under-the-radar productions as Charles Burnett’s “To Sleep with Anger,” “Escape from Alcatraz,” and “Places in the Heart” with Sally Field. But it was the action film series“Lethal Weapon,” that brought him onto the theater marquee and into the living rooms of America.
His activism over the years has earned him comparisons to one of his heros, Paul Robeson, and if there is a seminal moment in his political evolution it can be traced back to his student days at San Francisco State University where he was a member of the Black Students Union that established Black Studies, spearheading the movement. The five-month strike there to form a Black Studies Department was one of the longest in the nation.
On many occasions he has reflected on these early years, most recently in an interview with Nicolas Rapold of The New York Times. “I witnessed my parents come of age and become involved in the postal union,” he said. “I can remember watching the Montgomery bus boycott when I was nine years old.” There were also the extended visits to his grandparents’ home in rural Georgia and hearing more stories about the struggle against Jim Crow and the fight for liberation. These moments forged a formative base that helped shape his merger of artistic endeavors with social and political activism.
“It was totally through the fact that theater became a tool in which to communicate in the Black Arts Movement,” he told Rapold of his involvement in the arts. “There had been movements of Black artists before then, certainly, with generations before then in the 20th century, the ascension of Black artists during that period of time, in which Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, and so many more, became a part of the cultural landscape in our country.”
At various points of his productive life art and politics intersected, a veritable confluence of films and activism. In 1999, for example, he made a huge financial donation to fund TransAfrica Forum, an organization devoted to global justice, which he would later chair, and at the same time he was completing work on “Beloved” (1998) and preparing for “Boesman and Lena” (2000). A decade later he committed considerable time to foreign affairs in Haiti, particularly in association with Dr. Ron Daniels and the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, even going to South Africa to escort the beleaguered former Prime Minister Jean-Bertrand
Aristide back to his homeland. This was during the period when he was putting the wraps on “LUV” and “Highland Park.”
Films gave Glover the opportunity to suture the often make-believe with reality, to acquire the funds needed to support his political commitments and also to inspire a sense of independence and to one day produce his own films. To this end for several years through his production company Louverture Films he has been busy raising the money and forging a team to tell the story of the Haitian revolution and its heroic leader, but for any number of reasons it’s still a work in progress. Even so, knowing of Glover’s indomitable will and drive, that dream remains a possibility, and wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Glover in the lead role or as the often overlooked revolutionary Mackandal, the chief who led the initial uprisings? Yes, that role would embody the vision and determination Glover has invested in all walks of his eventful life.