WAMG Interview: Danny Glover on THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975
Interview conducted by Tom Stockman October 19th, 2011
THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975 brings together, for 90 fascinating minutes, a treasure trove of 16mm material shot by Swedish journalists who came to the US drawn by stories of urban unrest and revolution. Gaining access to many of the leaders of the Black Power Movement – Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver among them, the filmmakers captured them in intimate moments and remarkably unguarded interviews. Thirty years later, this collection of unedited film was found languishing in the basement of a Swedish Television station. Director Goran Olsson discovered this footage and assembled a documentary chronicling the evolution of one of our nation’s most indelible turning points, the Black Power movement. Featuring music by Questlove and Om’Mas Keith, and commentary from prominent African- American artists and activists who were influenced by the struggle — including Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, Talib Kweli, and Melvin Van Peebles, THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE is an exhilarating, unprecedented account of an American revolution (read Mellissa’s WAMG review HERE).
Danny Glover, the beloved star of THE COLOR PURPLE, PLACES IN THE HEART, SILVERADO, and of course the four LETHAL WEAPON movies, has spent much of his life involved in political activism. He considers himself an activist first and an actor second. Goran Olsson approached Mr. Glover with his idea of assembling the THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE footage into a feature documentary. With this subject so close to his heart, Glover embraced the concept and quickly agreed to sign on as the film’s producer. Mr. Glover was kind enough to take time out from his schedule to speak to We Are Movie Geeks.com about the project.
We Are Movie Geeks: Hi Mr. Glover, I’m with We Are Movie Geeks.com in St. Louis here.
Danny Glover: How’s St. Louis?
WAMG: Good, have you ever been here?
DG: Yeah, I’ve been to St. Louis many times. I love St. Louis!
WAMG: I was looking at a list of your credits and was surprised to see that you first acting role was in ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979)
DG: Hah, yeah, that was one of those roles where you can decide whether it’s me or not. You can see my back. I think they even dubbed my voice in that.
WAMG: Did you get to know Clint Eastwood at all?
DG: No, I didn’t. I just did that one scene. I was very polite to him though.
WAMG: Did you ever meet Charles Bronson?
DG: Never met Charles Bronson.
WAMG: Let’s talk about BLACK POWER MIXTAPE. How did you get involved with that project?
DG: It was one of those good fortunes that we had. Because of the work we’ve been doing with black amateur films, and the way we try to support filmmakers, Goran Ollsen, the director came to us with this material. Both (co-producer) Joslyn Barnes and I saw this film, recognized its importance, and wanted to be a part of it. For me, as someone who grew up in that period of time, I was born and raised in San Francisco. I was at San Francisco State in 1967. And I’d like to think that we were…..special. We modeled a great deal of our engagement on our role models. We found ourselves not only active on campus but active in the community. That was a critical part of our platform, to be active. San Francisco State was unique because it was kind of a community resource outlet and it was a teacher’s college. It had 12 or 13 hubs all around the city so we had immediate access, through our work studies program, to the activism that was going on in the community. Because of that, the group that filmed BLACK POWER MIXTAPE also had access to everyone from Stokely Carmichael to the Black Panther Party and other organizations.
WAMG:Was there a link between your activism and the launching of your acting career?
DG: Well, I think there was somewhat of a correlation. You have to understand it this way. My intention at a young age, in my twenties, was not to be an actor. I was involved in black activism and in the spring of 1967 we invited Amiri Baraka to start a community communication project for a semester at San Francisco State. This opened up an enormous opportunity for the Black Student Union because now we had a leading voice in the black arts out at San Francisco State, in the progressive community. He had been out in San Francisco before because he had been one of the beat poets as well. Do you know about Amiri Baraka, also known as Leroy Jones?
DG: You should! Look him up, Leroy Jones. Look him up, Amiri Baraka. At the time in the black arts community, he preceded the Negro Ensemble Theater. You know the Negro Ensemble Theater?
WAMG:I’ve heard of it.
DG: Yeah, it’s in New York. So Amirir Baraka was there in San Francisco and he engaged the community in terms of the black arts. That’s my own history. So in 1966 and 1967 we had Eldridge Cleaver and Charles Fuller in San Fransisco. Do you know who Charles Fuller is?
DG: (sighs) – Well, you should. Charles Fuller was a playwright. A very prolific playwright at that time in the black arts movement and an important part of the New York Shakespeare Company. These are the kinds of activities that happened to me at the time, a great movement of expression that was happening in the black community typified by the community theater, an explosion of community theater, all on the heels of the civil rights movements. All these upbeat ways that people were articulating through art the different aspects of the African experience. It was dynamic, whether it was in New York, or Chicago, or Cleveland, Oakland, you found all this emergence of black expression through art. And indirectly I was involved in it but basically I was a student majoring in economics. So I was a college student during the civil rights movement but all these calls to service were profound as I was figuring out who I was and what I was doing with my life. When I came into contact with these people later, people like Stokely Carmichael, H Rap Brown, John Lewis, these were my heroes.
WAMG: Did you know Stokely Carmichael?
DG: I met Stokely Carmichael. I didn’t know him. I was 20 years old. I was a student and I met him. I met him and Eldridge and all of those guys
Danny Glover with THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975 director Goran Ollsen
WAMG: When (BLACK POWER MIXTAPE director) Goran Ollsen approached you guys and told you about these hundreds of hoursÂ that had been shot, and I believe it had been sitting in a warehouse in Sweden ….
DG: They were in an archive but they weren’t organized. They were looking for something else when he came across this.
WAMG: Did you see a lot of this footage besides the 90 minutes that made it into the final film?
DG: No, he put it together himself. We had suggestions and we watched some of the film. It was at one time a much larger film. It’s cut down to 90 minutes but it was a film that was much larger and we were involved in the process. I called people I know and everyone had suggestions. I know Sonia Sanchez. She was one of my teachers out in San Fransisco State and a very good friend of mine. I asked her to participate in an interview and I asked others as well.
WAMG: I noticed that you yourself chose not to participate on camera. Were you asked to speak or was that a conscious decision to stay out
DG: We decided the best way to do this was to give the opportunity for others to express their feelings.
WAMG: A lot of the commentators like Questlove andÂ Eryka Badu were young musicians. Why were they chosen?
DG: Certainly it’s obvious that young people are influenced by that and touched by that. They are popular musicians and they appeal to young people. These were young people watching the movement forty years ago. So their connection with how they see the world has to connect with young people today. Everyone single one of the young artists were influenced by the expressions of these people spoken forty years ago. And then you have a great black poet with Sonia Sanchez. And then you have someone that the black power movement was centered around. You have Angela (Davis) speak. So you have all you need right there.
WAMG: Did you know Angela Davis before?
DG: I’ve known Angela Davis since the period around her trial (1971)
WAMG: Have you traveled with her and spoken with her?
DG: We’ve been on a couple of panels together. We’re friends, we talk. I’ve known Angela since before I was an actor.
Stokely Carmicheal, Bobby Seale, and Angela Davis in BLACK POWER MIXTAPE
WAMG: What does the term “Mix Tape” mean exactly. Why is the film is called BLACK POWER MIXTAPE?
DG: It’s the director’s prerogative. We agreed with it when he came to us with the idea of a mixtape. I thought it was pretty self-evident because of having the information and trying to find ways to conceptualize it through the ideas of a mixtape. And also a mixtape is associated with hip-hop music so I think we got the right title.
WAMG: I like the title. Now you’ve been an activist all of your adult life. Was there a particular event that politicized you?
DG: Well, I come out a family of union workers. My parents were both postal employees who came to the post office in 1948 when the federal government desegregated the federal workplace and a lot of African Americans came to the workplace. My parents were young. When my dad came to the post office in the Deep South, he had taught a year at a high school before he came to New York and went to war. My mother was president of the National Council of Negro Women so it all came naturally to me. I was born 65 years ago. I was 9 years old when they had the Montgomery bus boycott and I viewed it as a child with my parents on television.
WAMG: Do your colleagues in Hollywood understand your activist side or do they think you’re a bit of an eccentric?
DG: I don’t know. I mean, it doesn’t make any difference to me. I don’t have any discussions with anybody.The people that I talk are people that have been friends of mine for a long time and are activists themselves. The people that I’m most close to are people like Harry Bellafonte. I’m sure you wouldn’t ask him if his friends in Hollywood understand his activism.
WAMG: I might.
DG: He’s a man who walked with Dr. King from the time he was 27 years old! I don’t think about it. I worked in city government for six years. I worked in community development right after I finished college so acting is a second career for me. I don’t renounce my responsibilities as a citizen because I’ve become a very public figure.
WAMG: What did you think of the scene in BLACK POWER MIXTAPE where Stokely Carmichael takes the microphone away from the interviewer and begins interviewing his own mother?
DG: That was amazing! I think that was quite extraordinary. Great footage and it gave kind of another dimension to Stokely.
WAMG: What’s next for Danny Glover?
DG: A TV series with Kiefer Sutherland called TOUCH
WAMG: I was hoping you were going to say LETHAL WEAPON 5
DG: No more Lethal Weapons. We finished.
WAMG: People ask you that all the time?
DG: Yeah, it’s been thirteen years since the last one. Mel Gibson and I are good friends though and we talk from time to time.
WAMG: Well, good luck with BLACK POWER MIXTAPE. It’s a very good film and look for this interview at We Are Movie Geeks.com
DG: All right, thank you.
THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975 opens in St. Louis Friday October 28th at Landmark’s Tivoli Theater