Don't get Danny Glover started on Africa.
The actor and political activist has just arrived in Philadelphia from Los Angeles to promote Bamako, an anti-globalization movie that opened last week at the Ritz East. Glover was an executive producer for the independent film.
Ushered Tuesday evening into an alcove off the lobby of the Sheraton Society Hill, Glover has barely unplugged his iPod and ordered soup and a sandwich when he launched into an impassioned defense of Africa and condemnation of the World Bank, which is cast in the role of evil antagonist in Bamako.
The international lending institution, he maintains, is largely responsible for perpetuating poverty in the developing world on behalf of powerful industrial nations.
"I think the World Bank either has to be abolished or it has to change," said Glover, 60, after reciting some of the recent news coverage about bank president Paul Wolfowitz, who is embroiled in an ethics scandal.
The World Bank might seem to be an unorthodox subject for a feature-length film. Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako sets the film in the courtyard of a home in Bamako, the capital of the West African nation of Mali. A mock trial of the World Bank is taking place in the courtyard while Africans in the predominantly Muslim community go about their daily lives.
The French-language film, which one reviewer called "agitprop," adopts a stark, anti-capitalist stance that plays to some developing world stereotypes of the West. The World Bank is represented in the trial by a pushy white lawyer named Rappaport.
Glover, who has been the target of criticism from the right for his support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Philadelphia's convicted murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal, believes there is a place in movies for political activism.
"I'm a storyteller," said Glover, who is perhaps best known for his collaboration with Mel Gibson in the Lethal Weapon movies. "I want the stories that I try to tell to move people, to have them understand what is often happening in the world.
"It so happens I did one of my Lethal Weapons, Lethal 2, which chose to deal with apartheid [and] was banned in South Africa in 1994. There's a direct impact the film had on providing information to people, talking to people about a particular issue happening in the world."
Glover makes a cameo appearance in Bamako as a character in "Death in Timbuktu," an allegorical spaghetti western that is kind of a movie inside the movie. He's a gunslinger involved in a shoot-out in which teachers, women and children are killed - the symbolic victims of global capitalism.
Long involved with political issues, Glover serves as an ambassador for United Nations programs, and is chairman of the Transafrica Forum, a nonprofit that promotes a pan-Africanist agenda to unite Africans worldwide.
He is well-informed, but elliptical. A question about the source of his passion elicits a response that touches on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how King developed a position against the Vietnam War.
"I'm a child of the civil rights movement. . ." he said. "I'm blown away by who [Dr. King] was in 1955 at the Montgomery bus boycott, and who he turned out to be 13 years later.. . . And that evolution, that kind of evolution of thought, political thought, I think is essential. I think for my part African Americans have to see themselves as part of the world.. . .
"The passion comes out of that. . . . So, yeah, I could talk about and think about African Americans and the strategic role they play here . . . and look at their issues in relationship to what is happening to people of color and poor people, not only here but around the world. I'm connecting the two things."
A question about his support for Abu-Jamal and Chavez touches off a six-minute exposition about distrust among African Americans for the authorities.
"My support [for Abu-Jamal, convicted of the 1981 murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner] is simply about due process, my support is about justice. When all the information comes out in terms of that, his case, all of them suggests that all the truth that should be there has not been present. All of this stuff. We know historically about what's happened. We know about the CoIntelPro [FBI Counter Intelligence Programs against political dissidents]. We know what has happened historically in black communities. We can't even get to the bottom of what happened in King's case, King's assassination. . . . So we know that something is underlying it. We know about the torture that happened among ex-Black Panther party members and all this stuff. We know that.
"So how do we begin to fashion some idea where we have, where we could begin to deal with the truth that's in front of us? I know what happens in the black community, the violence that even happens with the police force. I'm not demonizing the police. It's important. You have to have, in a civil society, policemen. You have to have that. But it's a fine line. . . .
"When I come here in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal, I come here in support of justice. If it's a question of due process, if the main foundation of democracy is due process, let's have the process go on."
Which is a different situation, he said, quickly changing subjects, from his support for Venezuela's Chavez, who he notes is a duly elected president who has taken a stand that threatens the West.
It's 15 minutes past the allotted half-hour interview. The soup has gone cold and the club sandwich has congealed. Glover talks another five minutes about whether international bankers or Kwame Nkrumah, the founder of modern Ghana, was responsible for the decline of the nation after independence.
The patient but anxious publicist finally intervenes. The show must go on. There is a movie to promote.
To listen to parts of the interview with Danny Glover, go to http://go.philly.com/dannygloverEndText