By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
mgreen@afro.com

With almost five decades in the entertainment industry, actor Clarke Peters has achieved a “legendary” status, yet per his frank conversation with the AFRO and moving performance as Otis in Spike Lee’s new film, Da 5 Bloods, the multifaceted artist clearly has no intention of slowing down, and continues to inspire through art.  In a Facebook live interview that lasted over 40 minutes, Peters talked about his journey from the United States to Europe to work as a performer, his activism regarding the Vietnam War and his extensive career that led him to the challenging but moving role as a Vietnam veteran in Da 5 Bloods.

AFRO: What is it about across the pond that welcomes and embraces Black American artists in such a way that you and others (Josephine Baker, James Baldwin) have found success?

Spike Lee, Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors and Norm Lewis on the set of Spike Lee’s new Netflix film, {Da 5 Bloods}. (Courtesy Photo)

CP: I think it’s very simple- we don’t have the same history.  The Europeans don’t have the same history as the Americans on that land. They do share the same subjugation, the same colonization and all of that, but what is different, there was an appreciation of our culture in France.  African Americans have a long association, with, particularly, Paris after the First World War.  And after the First World War you had someone who is just now being recognized named Jacques Bullard, who was the first Black fighter pilot ever in history- and he fought for the French.  And when the Second World War came he fought for the Americans and they told him, ‘No you can’t do this,’ and that’s a whole other story that needs to be explored as well.  Because of Jacques Bullard, and his success at being a war hero for Paris, he was pretty much the go-to man in Paris in the 1920s when Josephine Baker… Sidney Bechet, and a host of others came to Paris, they came to him.  And he left behind well-respected and a wonderful love for our culture that, I think, is pretty much there today… We were prominent there, I have to say before as well.  After the Civil War and during Reconstruction we were still appreciated, our culture was appreciated.  At that point in time it was the fashion to do minstrel shows, so that was happening there as well.  I think after generations of being there, we’ve become part of that culture…

AFRO: The pre-Da 5 Bloods Clarke Peters was on the frontlines, protesting against the Vietnam War and you came back to the U.S. and learned you were accused of dodging the draft.  Tell us about that.

CP: … It wasn’t my war to begin with anyway.  I guess in my heart, I knew that I was never going to go there.  I knew that the fight that we were really fighting was one that Martin and Malcolm and Robert Kennedy and John Kennedy had died for and many, many, many others.  I didn’t know these people .  And the first time I went there was shooting Da Five Bloods, and I went there carrying the luggage of some sort of guilt for a whole nation of people who had done this to them, and I was hoping that no one would challenge me, because I was like, ‘I was on your side.  I got arrested because of .  It’s a hard one to process.  The Vietnamese who I met were beautiful people.  War is just wrong anyway.  Wrong, wrong, wrong…

AFRO: What was it like approaching this character of Otis, and with this amazing cast and Spike Lee, but knowing your own history with Vietnam and activism?

CP:  It was almost cathartic.  It was almost like a breath of fresh air.  It was a blessing.  When your life and everything you feel have a confluence, come together, like it did with that character, all I can do is be grateful.  The nervous part of it was working with my cast, who are so well esteemed actors, and I hold them up – Delroy , Isiah and young Jonathan as well, and all these guys in high esteem.  The thing about Otis is that he was me when I was doing those things at the demonstration.  I was just wondering if Spike had done that because he knew I played that role in life…

For the full interview visit www.facebook.com/afroamericannewspapers.

 

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor