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South to the Future 

What's Red and White and Black all over: A leftist weekly insults a liberal black politician

Wednesday, Mar 29 2000
March 29, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO -- A local alternative weekly is in hot water with one of San Francisco's most famous residents. Celebrated actor Danny Glover has publicly denounced the San Francisco Bay Guardian for mistakenly using his likeness in an illustration of Mayor Willie L. Brown. Both men are African American.

The controversial cover, which was published last week, purportedly depicts Mayor Brown. But rather than resembling the recently re-elected politician, the front page drawing has been widely seen as a dead ringer for film star Glover.

In the contested cartoon, an African-American man, presumably Mayor Brown, is surprised while feeding government documents into a City Hall shredder. But the figure bears such a striking resemblance in complexion and expression to Glover, a star in the Lethal Weapon films, that several of Glover's friends and family members contacted him to find out how he had become involved in a local political scandal.

The actor has complained about the cover in several interviews with local television and radio outlets and wrote an open letter to the Bay Guardian that was published by the San Francisco Chronicle. In his letter, Glover laments the Bay Guardian's inability to distinguish between the faces of two very different but equally prominent African-American men. "It's a sad day," concluded the actor, "when a progressive publication can't tell one black man from another."

Leaders from the African-American community have also voiced their disappointment with the Bay Guardian, decrying what some call a "persistent vision problem," and pointing to a series of editorial illustrations in which a nondescript black man was made to stand in for the Mayor.

"Just draw a balding black guy in a nice suit," says Amos Brown, a San Francisco Supervisor, "and you have the universal sign for Willie Brown a la the Bay Guardian."

In the Bay Guardian's defense, the paper's executive editor Tim Redmond says that caricatures are meant to create an impressionistic rather than photorealistic portrayal of their subjects. He also cites his paper's continued dedication to covering topics of interest to the African-American community such as housing, police brutality, and environmental racism. According to Redmond, the paper plans to issue a public apology to Glover in its next issue, while continuing to stand by the cover depiction as a valid editorial interpretation of Mayor Brown.

John Carroll, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, says he is not surprised by the controversy. Carroll believes the Bay Guardian's editorial policy consists primarily of its irascible publisher's vendetta against Mayor Brown. "I've never understood why they wanted to get him so bad, even worse than his Republican predecessor," puzzles Carroll. "It's as if Willie Brown was [Guardian Publisher] Bruce Bruggman's Rosebud."

Mayor Willie Brown, for his part, is more pleased than puzzled by the tabloid flare-up, which has linked him closely to the handsome Hollywood actor. Quipped Brown on Saturday night as he was ushered to his favorite table at Le Central, "It's always been clear to me that the Guardian doesn't know who the hell they're talking about -- this just proves it."

South to the Future's stories contain fictional and factual elements. Except when public figures are being satirized, any use of real names is accidental and coincidental. Comments?

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