This Black History Month the annual Pan African Film Festival completed its 24th installment at the Rave Cinema at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Crenshaw, California. As a part of the festivities, there were special Q&A sessions with influential actors and directors who had films showing in the festival. One of those influential artists that came to speak was acting legend Danny Glover.
Although he is best known for his acting, Danny Glover is one of the most politically active actors in the game today. In 1968, Glover was an instrumental part in the longest campus strike in American history at San Francisco State University. This protest was the topic of a documentary titled Agents of Change that was shown at the film festival. This protest, like many others during that time period, was in a demand for equality. The students of the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front, along with community supporters, demanded everyone have equal access to public higher education, that more senior faculty of color be hired, and a new curriculum be written that embraces the history and culture of all people. What Glover spoke on was his experience as a part of this movement and what it means to be a politically active artists in the industry.
Glover started the conversation with a story.
“I always refer back to my third grade teacher, my second or third grade teacher. We lived in the projects in San Francisco, the army street projects as they were called, and my third grade teacher would always say ‘I’m not simple interested in making good students, I’m interested in making good citizens.’ “
This memory set the tone of the conversation. What Glover meant by saying this is all people, no matter their status or platform are citizens first, and not just United States citizens, but citizens of the human race. He went on to say that,
“I see myself essentially as a citizen first and the fact that I’m an artist, then I become a citizen artist…its the idea of having the platform as an artist and as an artist from various stages of my life and trying to connect the work that i do as a citizen with important elements of my own development, my own growth, and maturation”.
Danny Glover has throughout his career stayed true to this concept. He has working in city government, before and during his illustrious acting career and has fought to model city programs to enact change in San Francisco. As he was developing as an actor, he recalls, there were moments where he would still be front line in the battle for racial equality in California, working with people like Eloise Westwood and Espanola Jackson in San Francisco fighting against many different forms of institutionalized oppression.
During his time at SFSU, the artists were not only apart of the public discourse but they were also apart of the public consciousness. He quoted Paul Robeson, one of his influences, saying, “Artists are the radical voice of civilization.” With that statement he set in place a duty for artists, and not just artists of color, to be apart of the social change that is going on and needs to go on in this country.
This concept of artist involvement in social action seemed to be a underlying theme of the entire festival. From almost all of the films or events you can grab on to a sense of duty to be involved in whatever struggle or hardship is being personified metaphorically or out right in them. What Danny Glover had to say did no more than exemplify the fact: artists need to use their platform to be an agent of change.