Danny Glover discusses the message behind the film Bamako


Bamako, directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, is an exploration of Africa’s social, economic and human crises. Set in a courtyard in a poor section of Bamako, Mali’s capital, the film takes the form of a trial where two sides argue over the affect that corporate globalism and organizations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have had on Africans.

Danny Glover, actor and one of the film’s executive producers, came to the Riverview Theatre during the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival to promote the film and engage the audience in a Q & A session directly following a showing. Lauretta T. Dawolo, News Director for KFAI Radio and Al McFarlane, Insight News Editor-in-Chief later sat with Glover to discuss the film’s message.

DANNY GLOVER: Most great films come out of a need to express an idea. A filmmaker decides to do something about the Grand Canyon. He has an idea. He has something that he wants to illuminate and place in some sort of cultural context. Film provides an opportunity. All expressive art forms do, whether it’s dance, photography or painting. For an artist it’s individual, but it’s a chance to connect with the forces that are around him, the expressive forces around him; the art, the birds, the collage of life. Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, for example, expressed and owned their art. They took ownership of their impressions of the world around them and their community. When we think about Lawrence, Bearden, or the great Langston Hughes, we’re left with that profundity.

Abderrahmane Sissako is a great filmmaker. His films are often non-linear, but they’re not abstract. They’re films that in some sense engage us in a process that is happening. Often real stories are not linear stories. They’re stories that begin at one point and end at the next point. He provides testimony of people who have been victimized by policy which they have no say in, they have no voice in. So it’s a process you see happen, a deep democratization of what is happening to these people in which their engagement is absent in the decisions that are made that affect their lives.

AL MCFARLANE: Is the learning that we have to figure out ways to re-engage on our terms? Is the lesson that small communities globally can bypass corporate and government globalization strategies by creating our own collaborations on our own terms?

DG: When we talk about economics, we’re talking poverty. Policy is a human construct. It’s not scientific. There is no science behind development. There is no science behind foreign policy. There is no science behind trade. If we establish laws as human beings that reflect our ability to see each other as equals then we have another process. But presently there are those who are the exploited and those who are the exploiters through policy and process. Dr. King said a nation that spends more on military than on servicing the human needs is a nation that is moving toward spiritual and moral bankruptcy. He also said that the three dangers that we have to grapple with are materialism, militarism and racism. That is the real axis of evil.

In this country the top 3,000 wealthiest people have more accumulated wealth than the 150 million people on the bottom. If that’s symbolic of what we live in and instructive of what we live in here, then imagine what it’s like in the rest of the developing world where many people live on less than two dollars a day. How do we confront that issue? How do we deal with this issue? We look at the stock market today, which is at 1300, and when we talk about “the economy is doing fine,” what are we talking about? Who is doing fine? Are workers doing fine? Are the people who have been displaced in New Orleans doing fine? These are human constructs. There is no law in that. The question is, who are we going to be, morally and spiritually? Who are we going to be as human beings? We need to embrace a moral revolution, a revolution of values. That’s what MLK talked about and that’s when he became most dangerous. It wasn’t just simply about integrating people. It is about how we attack systemic structural issues that are masked in racism and poverty.

LAURETTA DAWOLO: How do you get all of those principles in a film and still make it popular, still make it something people want to see? And I guess the underlying issue is, why should people care about those issues?

DG: They should care about them because they’re right in our communities. The same issues that face Africans and South Americans around poverty, around health care, around abdication of responsibility to take care of this population are the same issues that we deal with here. A glaring example is New Orleans, and we can see it all along the Gulf Coast. We can see it in inner cities around the country. The violence that youth turn in on themselves is because there is no objective way to have some sort of resolution. It’s the real issues that affect their lives.

The collapse of the public schools is a form of privatization, through vouchers and charter schools. Even in issues around clean water, they’re being privatized. You have to buy it. So what we have is the subtle privatization of our lives. And in that privatization the individual becomes the one that is upheld, as opposed to the collective. You as an individual are supposed to deal with your issues of social security. You as an individual are supposed to deal with your issues around health care as the health care system becomes emasculated. Rather than the collective well-being of the people, what we’re talking about is the rights of individuals and of those coalitions of people who exploit individuals.