DANNY GLOVER IS A G! The Man fully set BFI’s Black Stars event alight with keen insight and absolute down-to-earthness on Sat 17th Dec. Upon entry we were presented with his filmography – beginning in 1979. One would be forgiven for feeling that in another universe, such a depth and breadth of quality roles would be worthy of much more celebration. But such thoughts are wasted on a man who is infinitely comfortable with his achievements.
It became clear that the underlying current of this catalogue is not only Mr. Glover’s talent for effectively delivering a black narrative, but his uncanny ability to make his art a vehicle for his activism. A fact which no doubt inspired host, BBC’s Samira Ahmed opening question: “Was activism always in your blood?”
To which he replied: “My mother said ‘I am eternally grateful for my mother and father, because I didn’t pick cotton in September, I went to school in September’. So there’s a paradigm shift there… I am sitting on this stage because my mother didn’t pick cotton in September.”
Such answers typified an evening where a story about preparation for a role as a serial killer became a tale about how Glover began to take Pilates in an era where few men were doing so. Everything from the “craziness” of Lethal Weapon Co-Star, Mel Gibson to the perils of climate change were up for grabs. We learned that Lethal Weapon 5 was unlikely, though not impossible. We learned of Glover’s acting beginnings while studying at university and working with Amiri Baraka, “The leading voice around Black Arts” in the 60’s. We learned of his early experiences serving in the Black Panther Party’s breakfast programs as early as 1968 and engaging in political education as a result. These experiences and more inspiring him to not just be a “good actor” but become a “good citizen”.
Ahmed placed the role of ‘Mister’ in The Color Purple within the context of black women novelists becoming highly sought after university study material during the 1980’s. Glover explained why he relished the opportunity to read them all, particularly for their commentary on black men:
“I always say women, particularly black women, understand me better than I understand myself sometimes.” The balance between a matriarch mother and a father, who “was the most beautiful man I ever met in my life” provided him the balance and ease to take on a role which was for many, a challenge to the entire concept of Black manhood.
When asked about, Beloved, his unequivocal response was: “It was the most important film I have ever made”. A statement which served as the basis for an apt, timely and powerful commentary on the importance of confronting slavery narratives, and the healing power of doing so through art. Providing insight into his Pan-African perspective on such matters, Glover treated us to a knowledge of his favourite novels from post-colonial Africa, namely: 1. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe. 2. So Long a Letter – Mariama Ba. 3. God’s Bits of Wood – Ousmane Sembène, the legendary Senegalese director, for which Glover endeavours to complete the on screen adaptation.
My personal mission appeared to be thwarted due to limited time constraints but the answering style of the evening rescued my ambitions as an audience question on an unfinished Paul Robeson project brought us firmly to the subject of ‘Toussaint’, Glovers intended epic on the Haitian Revolution. When asked directly where Toussaint was at, he declared assertively “We gonna get it done!” – The audience left audibly pleased with his resolve.
Somewhat coincidentally, the most critical question was saved for last. Paraphrasing an audience member; describing the current high profile of on screen black people and black narratives as “several Christmases all at once”, he asked whether the industry’s response to #OscarsSoWhite and NBC reportedly commissioning 2 Black owned channels , have we arrived at the tipping point of consistently black representation in the mainstream. Danny Glover’s answer was so exquisite, it must be relayed verbatim.
“Dr. King always said, ‘I’m not simply trying to integrate black people into this current system – I’m about changing the soul of this country.’ That’s my mission… Does the positioning of black people in the system, change the soul of the country? That’s the question we have to ask – particularly now. Perhaps, this is a moment where we have a greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity at the same time.”
For more events in the BFI Black Star season please go to their website