Whether it be his famous line as Murdoch, “I’m too old for this shit” or flapping his arms to show that he believes in the angels, Danny Glover has proven to be an iconic African-American film star. But there is more to Glover beyond his work on stage and screen. Glover, in fact, has led quite a remarkable life as an activist and philanthropist around the globe. Championing workers’ and human rights, Glover has used his status to help propel these causes forward and enact change. On Tuesday, courtesy of Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Glover had the chance to speak with the Cornell and Ithaca community on his activism and film careers through the years.
The common question on many minds was how Glover even came to work with unions and workers. We see the usual celebrity partnerships with the UN and other worldwide organizations on the issue of basic human rights. Not too often do we see those working on changing the face of workers’ rights in our own country. But when one is born to two postal workers in San Francisco and surrounded by unions and social demonstrations, the seeds of social consciousness and involvement are planted in one’s being. Such is the case for Danny Glover.
His intense admiration and respect for his parents — he called his father “the most beautiful man” he has ever met — seems to have led to his activism in honor of them. As a student at San Francisco State University and member of the the Black Student Union, he led protests that culminated in the creation of an Ethnic Studies department in 1969, similar to the Africana Studies department here at Cornell.
And even after becoming a popular film actor, Glover never lost his activist roots. He mentioned his interest in spreading democracy and establishing acceptable working conditions. But rather than separating his life into two realms, Glover has made the effort of integrating the two as much as possible. He believes that “arts comes out of public space and movement of ideas.” Therefore, by producing documentaries that cater to different plights whether it be the war on drugs, the climate debt, arms sales, or the relationship between Paul Robeson and Albert Einstein, he realizes his goal of shifting the discourse on these subjects. It is not only a means of spreading awareness through a certain medium, but it has also allowed him to focus on which side of an issue he is on. It also does not hurt to have the leverage he possesses as a movie star.
He recalled wanting to make The Saint of Fort Washington, at a time when the movie studio wanted to make Lethal Weapon 3. Knowing full well that the studio was not willing to let him go, he made a deal to do the film while also getting that last push to finally bring the other film to cinematic fruition. With some other films, he has struggled more. For example, his latest project, Toussaint, has been in the works for 30 years. The film is to be centered on the leader of a slave rebellion that ultimately engendered the Haitian Revolution. He aims to tell a human story of the good and the bad, and of someone who brought about change. This is a story Glover must be all too familiar with.
Glover also imparted advice to current students on how to get involved in social justice. He acknowledged that the choices he has made are personal and he cannot advise others to follow in the same suit. Rather, he espouses the mantra of becoming “architects of our own rescue.” And judging by his myriad accomplishments and current projects, it seems as though he has orchestrated his own means of rescue that fulfills his activist needs. As one member of the audience asked, is Danny Glover then “an actor who does activism on the side, or an activist who acts on the side?” Well, the man could not have answered more eloquently or concisely than, “I consider myself a citizen artist.” And that ladies and gentlemen, is the best way you can articulate who and what Danny Glover is.