We're used to seeing Danny Glover playing action roles in movies like Lethal Weapon. But Glover plays a bigger role in real life - the role of political activist. Correspondent Randall Pinkston has the story for CBS News Sunday Morning.
These days, the co-star of the Lethal Weapon movies is less likely to be found in Hollywood on a sound stage than in Namibia as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations, or in St. Louis at an anti-death penalty rally, or in Cuba on a fact-finding mission.
It's in Cuba where I caught up with Glover.
"Coming here [to Cuba]," says Glover, "has allowed me to understand what it's like here in a different way. Not all my questions are answered, and not all of the answers I received were satisfactory, but I was ushered into a place where there was dialogue."
Glover is less of an ideologue and more of a compassionate, feeling and concerned being.
Randall Robinson, who heads Transafrica Forum, a think tank and lobbying group concerned with issues of race, invited Glover to join other celebrities on the trip to Cuba.
"it's important to remember about Danny that he was an activist when he was at San Francisco State, long before he considered being an actor," Robinson says.
"I was involved in the black student union from the moment that I hit the campus," Glover confirms.
That involvement led to an arrest in a student demonstration, but it did not dampen Glover's commitment. After college, working as a neighborhood organizer, he developed an interest in acting and studied at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.
"It was what we would call a set aside program, you know, or an affirmative action program, in a sense," Glover says.
That was more than 30 years ago. His career took him to the stage, and eventually to the big screen with a breakthrough role as a cotton farmer in Places in the Heart.
The Color Purple, Silverado and other films followed. Then, in 1987, he starred with Mel Gibson in the first Lethal Weapon movie, a blockbuster action hit that was followed by three sequels.
"I've been fortunate to have been involved in what they call a franchise in Lethal Weapon that has, for the past 12 years sustained me to some extent," he says.
The wealth and fame from the hit movie gave Glover more freedom to pursue his political agenda.
Off stage, he backed Randall Robinson's efforts to restore Aristide to power in Haiti. He supported sanctions against South African apartheid and, eventually, met that nation's leading freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela.
Glover remembers: "It probably was one of the great moments in my life, to have met this man who had made some enormous contribution to change the world's opinion about something, to change society. I was empowered by that experience."
On stage, he looks for work tht reflects his social conscience. He is co-founder of a community theater company that recently co-produced Yohen, a play about a troubled interracial marriage. Glover headlined the production.
Last year, he joined Oprah Winfrey in the movie Beloved, a saga of American slavery based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Toni Morrison. It's the kind of work that Glover thinks more Americans need to see.
Glover says: "Those memories, which hold us down to our fear, and our guilt, and our anger, you know, and sometimes we don't deal with it. We don't want to deal with it."
Danny Glover, of course, is not the first artist to use his popularity to attempt to focus attention on social and political causes, no matter how controversial. But the risk for any artist is that his public may not like his politics.
Camille Cosby, a philanthropist and producer, says, "I think it's very important for people to understand that artists are human beings who have ideas, who have political views."
The wife of entertainer Bill Cosby is familiar with that issue, in her own right. She too was on the Cuba trip.
"Unless you take a risk," says Cosby, "what is it all about anyway? I mean, you're supposed to take a stance for something. You're not supposed to sit back and accept something. You have to be a critical thinker."
Is Glover concerned that people who pay money to see him in popular movies might decide to turn their backs on him if they dislike his politics? "Well, what are my politics? Let's talk about what my politics are," Glover responds. "My politics are politics of social change. My politics are talking about creating a world in which we embrace each other. My politics are 'yeah, I think we need to question the death penalty.' I have to say what I believe and what I feel."
Glover's latest venue for speaking out is as the first Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations' development program. Its mission is to eliminate poverty, create jobs and advance the rights of women.
When asked if he had to choose between activism or acting, how he would choose, Glover says: "It's easy. One of them is going to decline in some sort of way, the other one's going to always be here. My acting career's going to be declining. It's probably on the decline now. But the activism has been my mainstay throughout all of my life."
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