Some actors are so charismatic and naturally skilled at illuminating the screen that they remind us where the term “star” originates. Danny Glover is a “star” in every sense of the word.
The multi-award-winning performer has made significant contributions to the world as an actor, writer, producer, and director whose virtuoso talents have commanded universal admiration. We will never forget his evil portrayal as Mister in the film The Color Purple. He was endearing as Detective Roger Murtaugh in the buddy cop genre franchise Lethal Weapon. We also marveled at how Danny brought such depth and subtlety to his character Paul D. in the film Beloved.
Danny has certainly proven himself as a performer but he is also an intellectual, educator, and a griot. History lives in Danny’s heart; he provides intellectual and creative engagement about our culture as a community. But he is also fueled by the humanitarian and political activism instilled in him at an early age by his socially conscious parents, both postal workers who were active NAACP members. Danny’s mother, Carrie, was a sharecropper who later rose to become the regional president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).
Carrie was also a friend of women and civil rights activist Dr. Dorothy Height, who was president of the NCNW. Sadly, in 1983, Carrie was killed in a car accident. Upon hearing of Carrie’s death, Dr. Height affectionately declared herself to be a second mother to Danny.
Danny’s advocacy for social change and community activism really began to pick up steam during his student days at San Francisco State University, where he majored in economics in 1968 and organized fellow African American students. Over the years, Danny has won numerous plaudits for his world-wide human rights efforts on behalf of those who are impoverished, paid unfair wages, and who struggled with inadequate health care.
The political dynamo is also the CEO and co-founder of the New York City-based Louverture Films, the production company was named after Toussaint Louverture, the leader of Haiti’s revolution. The company produces independent films of historical relevance, social purpose, and artistic integrity. On a more personal note, Danny has been married since 2009 to his second wife, who is Brazilian, Dr. Eliane Cavalleiro, a Stanford University professor. Danny’s only child, daughter Mandisa, is from his first marriage to Asake Bomani, an author.
Danny is not only a scholar by the lamplight of the study and he is also a scholar in the luminous school of life. He is like a quiet storm, a force that gathers speed and then exits, leaving behind a bright, spirit-glow of hope, knowledge, and understanding.
Teach Danny, TEACH!
50BOLD: You were born and raised in San Francisco, and are the oldest of five siblings. Both your parents were social activists. How did their social activism get passed down to you?
Danny: As a young child, I saw the Montgomery Bus Boycott on television. I indirectly learned and was nurtured by the cultural atmosphere that existed in my house. I’m watching TV in 1955, and saying to myself, ‘Who are these people? They look like me!’ What they were doing was important by virtue of the fact that my parents were glued to the television every night.
We didn’t live in a big house. We were living in a housing project until I was 11 years old. Then, my parents bought a house in the neighborhood that I still live in. I live twelve blocks from where I grew up.
I bought the house that I live in now, 45 years ago. I had another house in between. But, I’m still here. It’s an old Queen Anne Victorian. I love old houses like people love brownstones on the East coast. I love Victorians. My house was actually built in 1892.
50BOLD: Yes, you’ve certainly put down your roots in San Francisco.
Danny: I grew up in Haight-Ashbury. When I attended San Francisco State, I was influenced by the Black Power movement.
50BOLD: Oakland is the birthplace of the Black Panther Party.
Danny: Yes! And we had the Black Student Union (BSU) along with the emergence of the Black Panther Party. The chairman of the BSU had been part of Freedom Summer.
(*Editorial note: Freedom Summer was a 1964 voter registration drive aimed at increasing the number of registered Black voters in Mississippi.)
I had asked a very close friend of mine, Clarence “Buzz” Thomas recently if he remembered the time there was a meeting at Eldridge Cleaver’s apartment? We were part of the BSU. At the apartment were Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Cleveland Sellers, and Ralph Featherstone. Buzz and I were at the apartment just leaning against the wall, listening, trying to figure out what book a quote came from. We laughed about it. In fact, Buzz’s nephew is film director/producer Ryan Coogler.
50BOLD: If you hadn’t pursued acting what would you be doing?
Danny: I think I’m an actor because of the movements I have been involved in. The student movement in the late 60s, the African Liberation Support Committee in the early 70s, and later, the anti-apartheid movement; all brought elements of art into my life.
I also heard Sonia Sanchez read poetry for the first time in the summer of 1966.
Danny: She was a professor at San Francisco State. I’ve known Sonia Sanchez for a long time. I came out of that era.
50BOLD: Has being an activist affected your career? There are so many celebrities that are afraid to speak out on political and racial issues because they are concerned with how it may negatively impact their careers, this, however, doesn’t seem to affect you.
Danny: I’ve never considered that. There have been instances where I made a statement about something and the producers may have been uncomfortable. But at nearly 75 years old, I don’t think about that. I just don’t reflect on that.
50BOLD: You are also so very well-read. What are you reading now?
Danny: I just started reading an interesting book, The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James. Have you ever heard of the Black Jacobins?
50BOLD: No, who are they?
Danny: Do you know who C.L.R. James is?
Danny: C.L.R. James, who was born in Trinidad is one of the great, great Marxist historians. This is the 120th year of his birth. He was at the Pan-African Manchester conference in 1945.
The Black Jacobins is the story of the Haitian Revolution. They were the radical element of the French Revolution. There are three Revolutions that took place in 15 years: The American Revolution, 1776; the French Revolution, 1789; and the Haitian Revolution, 1791.
My argument is that the Haitian Revolution was the most important. Haiti has been a nation since 1804, going into 217 years. It was the first victory of Africans against the world-wide system of slavery. We don’t talk about this in this country. In fact, when you say something about the Haitian Revolution, many think it’s a band or something.
50BOLD: (laughs) You might be right!
Danny: The Haitian Revolution is the foundation for all of the others that took place in Latin America. It was Simón Bolívar who went to the Haitian President Alexandre Sabès Pétion and got arms and provisions to liberate Latin America from Spain.
Everybody knows about the Haitian Revolution in Latin America because they are connected to Bolívar. Where did Bolívar stay and make his plans to liberate Latin and South America? Haiti!
50BOLD: Did what you speak of take place during the time of Louverture?
Danny: Toussaint was before what I’ve referenced. He had been kidnapped by Napoleon and died in 1803 while imprisoned.
Toussaint had a nation-state (Haiti). Can you imagine what it must have been like with the 13 American colonies and how fearful slave owners were at the time? That’s why they crushed those slave revolts. For example, the Denmark Vesey slave revolt in 1822. Vesey’s idea was to commandeer ships from the Charleston, S.C. harbor and take them to Haiti. (*Editorial note: Vesey was hung on July 2, 1822.)
50BOLD: How interesting!
Danny: We don’t know anything about slave revolts here. In the book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist, he discusses how the U.S. received a gift for $15 million in 1803. What was that gift? The Louisiana Purchase.
Napoleon was so desperate for money after being defeated by Haitian slaves. He had planned to re-enslave Haiti with his army led by his brother-in-law General Charles Leclerc who was defeated by former Haitian slaves who were Haitian Army Generals. Toussaint was a general, Jean-Jacques Dessalines was a general, Henry Christophe was a general.
50BOLD: You are quite the historian.
Danny: History has always been one of my things along with math. I excelled in these subjects throughout high school.
50BOLD: I am amazed at your ability to remember exact dates.
Danny: We don’t live just in today, at this moment. We are manifestations of the past. The crucible of American democracy has been shaped for 245 years. It’s about the unfinished business of slavery which we’re dealing with right now.
No matter how many cellphones we’ve got, no matter how much technology we have, no matter how many bombs we can drop around the world, no matter how powerful this country is, we are still dealing with the unfinished business of slavery.
50BOLD: Who are your heroes or sheroes?
Danny: There are so many. Today, I get a chance to be around them a lot like Bob Moses, a leader, who is 85 years old. I knew who Bob was when I was 16. I knew about him with the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Freedom Rides. These events are part of my generational history. I knew who Fanny Lou Hamer was and she is one of my sheroes, along with Ella Baker and Dorothy Height.
50BOLD: Your mother and Dr. Dorothy Height were friends.
Danny: When my mother died in 1983, Dorothy would always say, “You know, I am your second mother.”
50BOLD: Who in Hollywood has had a big influence on you?
Danny: Oh yeah. I don’t like him anymore but I used to like him.
50BOLD: Who are you referring to?
Danny: Harry Belafonte! I’m joking, Harry is my partner. He’s been in over half my life. Oh man, I love Harry!
50BOLD: You’ve never done a film with Mr. Belafonte?
Danny: No, we’ve never done a film together. We were trying to work on some stuff together. Harry is one of the centerpieces of myself as an actor. Other Hollywood influences are Sidney Poitier and of course the one-of-a-kind, Paul Robeson who Mary McCleod Bethune referred to as the tallest tree in our forest.
50BOLD: You have quite a distinguished group of Hollywood influences!
Danny: I also love W.E.B. Du Bois. I’ve read much of the book Black Reconstruction in America, along with one of his greatest novels, The Souls of Black Folks. I don’t know how many times I’ve read Souls. It’s one of the most inspirational books I’ve ever read. It’s 12 parables about Black people that warms my blood.
50BOLD: How did you get the acting bug?
Danny: Well, we invited Amiri Baraka to San Francisco State to start a community communications program using art, dance, poetry, and drama. It galvanized a lot of people. I had never been on stage before in my life.
I auditioned for a play and didn’t think it would amount to anything. I also did improvisations. Around my 30th birthday, I was in a play by Athol Fugard which is a centerpiece to my work in theater. I had found the vehicle I needed and traveled from San Francisco, to L.A., to New York City.
The director Robert Benton saw me in Fugard’s Broadway play “Master Harold” and the Boys. He was about to direct a movie called Places in the Heart with Sally Fields. Just a few years ago, Benton told me, how he had seen me perform and said to himself, “I knew I had my Moze.” I simply mirrored my grandfather to play the role of Moze in Places in the Heart.
Oh, man, the film made me remember so much. My grandparents owned a farm in Mississippi that is still in my family. They went from being sharecroppers to farmers.
50BOLD: You have portrayed so many characters. Is there one performance that stands out as a sentimental role?
Danny: The Places in the Heart role has sentimental value for me and is the one I dedicated to my mother.
50BOLD: Really, why Places?
Danny: Places was my first major role. My mother died in an automobile accident on the same day I was told I had won the role.
50BOLD: Oh, I’m so sorry!
Danny: You grow up with your parents and then, they become your friends, this is the beautiful part of it all.
50BOLD: You’ve taken on roles that have purpose. What role do you consider to be your most powerful performance?
Danny: The most important portrayal I’ve taken on was for the film Beloved about the journey from slavery and beyond. It was about emotional trauma and the release of it at the end of slavery.
It was as if the ancestors had touched Toni Morrison and told her to write the book, Beloved. I can read it over and over again. It’s the language in the book, something about the characters who were the first to enter into this new world. The book is haunting. Maybe because all of us have ghosts and raptors and we hold them off. We all have a memory of that, it’s part of our psychic memory.
50BOLD: Psychic memory, I like that.
Danny: Psychic memory passes down; it just doesn’t go away. The forces that sustained it and profited from it, are still with us today.
50BOLD: I am with you, that’s deep.
Danny: I understand it on a visceral level, that’s part of my memory. It’s a reality. When you ride down a road in a small town in this country, particularly in the south, you can imagine all the things that happened on that road over the past 100, 200 years.
50BOLD: Absolutely! And speaking of forces, is it true that when your turned 35 years old, you willed yourself into not having any more epileptic seizures?
Danny: There was a period in my life that I experienced seizures from age 6 to 33.
Carl Lumbly and I were doing a play in 1977 at a small community theater in San Francisco. Carl goes on for 25 minutes with a monologue. Then, I appear during the second part of the play.
A few minutes into Carl’s monologue, I feel a seizure coming on. There were certain things that were trigger points. I felt my body feeling a certain way. I paced up and down while repeating to myself, ‘I will not have this seizure. I will not have this seizure.’ Then, I started skipping and repeating the phrase, ‘I will not have this seizure. I will not have this seizure. I will not have this seizure!’
I actually stopped the seizure from coming on. We completed the performance and as soon as I exited the stage, I whispered to Carl, ‘I’m about to have a seizure, grab me!’
50BOLD: What an incredible story!
Danny: I might have experienced about two or three seizures after the incident involving Carl.
50BOLD: So, you just willed those seizures away.
Danny: Yes, I willed them away. Sometimes your body functions in such a way that you are not going to allow it to control you; you have to take control. I don’t recommend this to all people. I’m not saying that I’m Superman, but in a sense, I really did have control of those seizures because they just stopped.
50BOLD: So, how are you handling the pandemic? Has it slowed down your work?
Danny: Well, yeah! (laughs), the pandemic has slowed everything. But you know, at 75 years old, I’m at a point in my career that I do enough to be comfortable. If I get 15 more years out of this body, that’s 90 years old.
50BOLD: You look very fit; do you follow a good diet and exercise regimen?
Danny: I exercise. There’s a beach about 10 minutes from my house and I drive out to it. I move in the sand, it’s not running anymore. When I was in my 40s and early 50s, I used to run four miles. Now, I ain’t going to do four miles of running on the beach. I’m not going to even fool myself. I call it movement. I do between three and four miles of walking on the sand. I’m also a vegetarian.
50BOLD: How long have you been a vegetarian?
Danny: Over four years now.
50BOLD: Oh, that’s why you look so good!
Danny: Well, I can’t comment on why I look so good (laughs)! I exercise. I sweat.
In my house, I was able to accommodate a space where I have an elliptical machine and a stationary bike. And I also do water movements in the jacuzzi.
50BOLD: Are you still involved with the think tank, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)?
Danny: I’m on the board of CEPR. I’m on the board for the Institute of Policy Studies. I’m also on the board of the Alliance of Families for Justice which empowers families whose loved ones are incarcerated.
I’m on the board of the Algebra Project. The Algebra Project was founded by Bob Moses. I met Bob, one of my heroes in 1999. We did a made-for-television movie together The Freedom Song in North Carolina about young SNCC workers in Mississippi in 1961. Bob was one of the actual SNCC workers.
50BOLD: I know you are very much involved in the education of young people.
Danny: I am an advocate for teachers and have advocated for them for over 50 years. I am a supporter of public education. I’ve done appearances at so many public schools in this country, it’s unbelievable. I’ve lectured and given commencement speeches at almost every high school in San Francisco.
50BOLD: Your dedication to education is so impressive.
Danny: I lectured at over 300 colleges. My mom was trained as a teacher. My sister who was so fantastic was the best fourth-grade teacher imaginable; she has passed on. I love teachers! Danny-Glover-loves-teachers!
50BOLD: Yes, Danny Glover loves teachers! And speaking of teachers and education, can you tell us about your company, Louverture Films which produces films of historical relevance, social purpose, and artistic integrity?
Danny: Yes, Louverture Films is my company. I have the most incredible, and amazing producer partner, Joslyn Barnes. We’ve had three documentary films that were nominated for Oscars: Trouble the Water, Strong Island, and Hale County This Morning, This Evening.
We are supporting global independent cinema. We’ve produced a movie called Capernaum which was nominated for an Oscar two years ago for Best Foreign Language Film. It should have won. It’s about a young boy in Lebanon who sues his parents for being born poor. The film is funny and irreverent.
50BOLD: I understand you wanted to do a movie on the Haitian Revolution. And I read that the late President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was financing the project.
Danny: The film never got done but Chavez was my little brother. He was a light-skinned brother (laughs). Chavez once told me, ‘Look at my skin. Look at my hair. My grandmother was African.’
50BOLD: Yes, Chavez did have kinky hair.
Danny: Chavez loved the Haitian people. He told me in 2004, when I met him for the first time, ‘We owe so much to the Haitian people. We as Latin Americans owe so much to the Haitian people.’
He helped African countries and supported them more than any other Latin American country. We’d always talk about how we were going to take a trip to Africa together.
50BOLD: You never did.
Danny: We never did.
50BOLD: We have a portion of the interview which we call Rapid Fire. I’ll say a word or phrase and you respond in one word or more if need be:
Storming the capital–Tragic
Black Lives Matter–Profound
Kamala Harris–I’ve known Kamala Harris a long time. I’m proud, proud, proud of her!
COVID-19-–The fight of our lives
The U.S. and respect around the world–What this generation can do is renew the United States’ vision. It’s about what we do as citizens in this country to renew our respect around the world.
50BOLD: I like your responses! It’s ALL about what we do as citizens to renew or even regain our respect globally. When Danny Glover gets to the gates of Heaven what is God going to say to you?
Danny: ‘I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve got your mama Carrie Mae, your daddy James Henry, and your brother and sister Reginald Earl and Connie Elain here. They’ve all been waiting for you!’
50BOLD: Mr. Glover, listening to you was like taking a master class in Black History; the experience was extremely enlightening.
Danny: You know, history comes to us all. We live history. We are a part of history. My history does not just reside in the four-square block where I live. It’s part of world history. We are all part of it.