Verbal Weapon

On Dec 28, one of the most surprising ways to take a political stand this holiday season will come to a theater near you -- a movie called The Royal Tennebaums. Remarkable otherwise as a wry family comedy by the director of "Rushmore," it features Danny Glover in a supporting role as a slick accountant. Glover is in the headlines these days for comments he made during a speech at an anti-death-penalty forum, comments that have right-wing talk show hosts calling for a boycott of his movies because he's "un-American." So, in an indirect way, seeing The Royal Tennenbaums could be $8.50 spent in defense of free speech.

On November 16, the Associated Press reported that Glover had "called on the United States government to spare the life of Osama bin Laden, even if he is found guilty of being involved in terrorist acts." Since then, a storm of controversy has been building around Mel Gibson's one-time partner in Lethal Weapon.

Glover made the comments in question during a speech at Princeton university on November 15, at an anti-death-penatly forum sponsored by the local chapter of Amnesty International. He spoke out against the death penalty in America (contrary to what the AP's report seems to imply, he did not specifically urge the United States to spare bin Laden. Instead, he simply emphasized that he was categorically against the death penalty, regardless of the circumstances or the crime.)

Those comments and others, when reported in the New Jersey Trentonian, sparked angry letters to the editor calling for Glover to be sent to Afghanistan. University newspapers reported that talk shows called Glover "un-American," "un-patriotic," and "dangerous."

Glover's other comments included: "This week, President Bush implemented a military tribunal which will make it easier for us to execute (people). This clearly is a slippery slope. We must stand vigilant against Bush in these times," and "When we fear, we clamp down on those who do not think like us or who do not look like us."

Besides providing fodder for talk shows, Glover may have lost a chunk of change and the support of the Modesto, California City Council. Glover was scheduled to speak on Martin Luther King day at the Modesto Junior College. The Modesto Bee reported that the city withdrew its sponsorship of the event following the controversy, prompting the local junior college to withdraw its offer to host the event.

Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino denied that the city was in any way participating in censorship, saying that the issue was Mr. Glover's asking price. "As long as the [city's] money doesn't go to his speaking fee, well, he can speak at the MLK event, we're not going to throw him out of the building," the mayor said. However, the mayor also said that in the past, the city of Modesto has paid speakers for Martin Luther King day, including Martin Luther King's daughter. Yolanda King is an outspoken activist for peace and human rights.

The MLK planning committee in Modesto, however -- the committee that originally issued the invitation -- is standing behind the famous actor. "Martin Luther King was kind of controversial, himself," notes Sam Tyson, a long-time member of the Modesto Peace-Life Center, which houses the MLK committee. The event will now be held at a local church.

Michelle Chihara is a staff writer for AlterNet.org.

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