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Don Cheadle Gives Some Perspective On Using The Word "Gangster" Regarding President Obama

by Cynthia Reid
January 2, 2012 3:04 PM
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Don Cheadle pic 55

One of the great things about Twitter is when celebrities or public figures get into hot water with their words and/or actions, it affords them the opportunity to quickly, and effectively, clean up any misunderstandings which was the case for Don Cheadle recently.

On Friday (Dec. 30th), he felt the need to clarify and give perspective on his use of the word "gangster" regarding President Obama in an upcoming article.  Apparently, some people took the term out of context.

Here's his complete tweet which is actually insightful and humorous:

In a Jet article that is coming out soon (is it already out? I’ve only seen excerpts on line) I was “quoted” (quote marks definitely intended) as saying I wished that our president had been more gangster in office. This apparently incendiary word set off rumbles with certain people who conflated my use of the word gangster with stereotypical depictions of black men in society today (even though I also tweeted that in my opinion Mandela and Clinton as well as a mother and father who raised their child in a hostile environment and grew a fully realized, free thinking human being would also be considered gangster. Oh well…). I realize that when speaking to reporters who are looking for the juiciest comments to print, a word like gangster in connection with a black president uttered by a black celebrity can almost be too much to resist. I also realize that when you do an interview you are likely to at least have your comments reduced and constructed to fit into a required space and never do you have say over the final edit. I say this not in defense but to offer some perspective. I believe I used the word gangster and I meant it. But I wasn’t talking about pants sagging and forties and “hoes” or any of that other nonsense and I find it hard to believe that that is what some people thought I was saying. I was talking about wish fulfillment; my own and my desire to witness something more than I had. When I was called by then Senator Obama to stump for him in 2008, I was honored and eager to do so. I took my two daughters with me to college campuses and rallied the troops for voter drives. Every opportunity I had to speak in public about my support for him, I did and still do. He is the clear choice in my opinion for 2012 and I will again support his re-election but those facts don’t mitigate what I earlier expressed about gangster, they coexist side by side. Coming out of eight years of a president who I believe in many ways took us as dangerously close to the brink of destruction as any before him, I was hoping for a seismic shift in the other direction. I don’t think we’ve had that. Many of my friends and family are scratching it out somewhere decidedly south of the ever widening gap between the haves and have nots, looking at losing their homes, colleges they can’t afford and healthcare they can’t avail themselves of. They’re the ones I’m thinking of when I say gangster. I understand the constraints of the president when dealing with a congress apparently dead set against working with him and I know how a bill becomes a law (I used to watch Schoolhouse Rock too). President Obama inherited a broken country mired in two wars, a financial crisis, a mortgage mess and more than we all probably even know about and has in my opinion brought us back from the brink. But I still see my friends in no better shape and the gap widening. I am not a policy maker and have no desire to be one. I am not running for office and would never be elected were I to. I have no designs on becoming a lobbyist. I am a father, a “husband”, an actor and a citizen of this country and planet who flippantly expressed on a press tour, a desire to see our president riding roughshod over his adversaries to get the job done for the least represented amongst us. I still want that. I still want that with full knowledge that it might be an uphill fight that ultimately proves impossible given the hostile impasse our president faces. I still have a fevered dream of the POTUS smacking up John Boehner in a public forum in middle America and making him defend support of tax cuts for the super rich. I want to see somebody go to jail over the financial crisis and not just black, brown and poor whites over humbles and minor drug beefs. I want the president to bail out homeowners who fell for the okey doke from predatory lenders and are two seconds from living on the streets or are already there. I want to see industrial polluters who are killing all of us slowly by poisoning our fragile environment swap places with the kid doing 15 years in Chino for shoplifting shoes. I want him to stand in front of the haters and go all Bill Duke on them and say, “You know you done fucked up now, don’t you?” I kinda want a gangster president. I was about to write that in the future I would chose my words more carefully but I’m sure I won’t. Besides, I think the debate is more enriching. I appreciate all the articles I was directed to and will try to find time to read them although I don’t need any more proof to support President Obama. I’m glad he’s at the wheel and not me – I woulda swung at somebody by now. I wish you all peace in the New Year and let’s keep on keeping on.

Don Cheadle

By the way Don, you're right...the debate is more enriching!

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  • Kyraocity | January 7, 2012 7:10 PMReply

    "We might remind ourselves that criticism is as inevitable as breathing, and that we should be none the worse for articulating what passes in our minds when we read a book and feel an emotion about it, for criticizing our own minds in their work of criticism." Eliot, T. S.

  • maxstylevoyager | January 7, 2012 2:02 PMReply

    DON!!!! You're THE MAN !! How very clever that equation, and one that's been on my mind for sometime. Now here you displayed it all and to end it with my own ( thought it was just me ?!! ) conclusion. Thanks for the honesty and speed . A fan, 1 degree of separation.

  • Kyraocity | January 7, 2012 12:58 PMReply

    I went looking for a quote to sum up the ambivalent reaction I had to @bondgirl's comments or moreover her venom towards Cheadle aka Troy (and btw Terence Howard). There seems to be something off IMBHO with not being allowed to voice criticism, a critique, or offer your POV as part of your being human as well as citizen. It seems to me that's not only what makes participatory democracy work for each and every one (not agreement or absolute consensus -- an oxymoron if ever there was one). Cheadle is not one part of himself (an actor or a "husband"). He doesn't sell out or off his power to speak his truths because others don't like his grind or his beef. He speaks his truth and for that Obama would, I hope if he's got any gangster in him, accept as one citizen's view and even perhaps take head that one man's POV that resonates in any way (good, bad or indiffernt) with so many comments might offer some insight into the bottom 99% like me who is recovering from bankruptcy (for the first and hopefully last time). There is no shame in my game and none in Obama's or Cheadle's. But, if we can agree to be offended and stay connected not just to Obama (@bondgirl) but to the Cheadle's and Howard's, then what I see is a failure to freely participate in a democracy. "Consensus is a process designed to create better ideas together not to compromise on mediocre ideas; modified consensus is an attempt to hear all voices while working strategically toward concrete solutions") []

    There is/was something brilliant in Cheadle's incorporation and signification on a trans-local black concept like "gangster" not just to inspire thoughts about Obama but about ourselves as citizens. We need everything we got to inspire each other to take actions to empower a great citizenry. And we also need not diminish the power of linking those actions to a voting process that is and never has been ideal. I appreciated Cheadle clarification and his stance for re-election. I for one have been wavering in my support. But Cheadle's comments and response has inspired me to rethink my lack of support as the glow of electing someone like "us" whatever that means has dimmed greatly. I have been mad at the lack of attention and interest in generating a GANGSTER move like MLK did with the Poor People's Campaign.

    So ultimately I am going steal my own words here and post my own blog to own up to my own smallness around quitting as @bondgirl suggests. But I think she...let me not talk to my twittter sista in 3rd voice...I think you were talking to someone like me, not Cheadle. Can't always judge a book by its cover baby. But I can truly say I got something from the conversation that wouldn't have been available without FB, my posting the Cheadle event on my wall, my reading the comments cuz my girl Dr. Stacy Blake-Beard pointed me to your comments @bondgirl, and finally that I took these 30 mins to reflect on my own position. I am not as active as Cheadle was though I did my part for the election with my students. I am not as active as bondgirl is on a many a tip. AND I thank you both for reminding me of my responsibilities to my own citizenship. This could only happen this way with the power of social media--the 21st century version of the grapevine. Peace, Power and Votes!!

  • ELois P. Clayton | January 15, 2013 12:18 PM

    "Don't pay no attention to her", is a line that this Barbara(pedophile/always talking about kidnapping people/always trying to set someone up to be raped and exploited/always saying take a picture of some and bragging about selling their pictures to perverts.
    639 N. Lockwood, is behind MUCH of the thugs activities that exist in this 37th alderman's(emma Mitts) ward!
    From human trafficking, to kidnapping to instigating perverted guards at Chester MHC, this "person" is known for these illgotten behaviors.
    Children(as well as my brother who has been raped by guards and other inmates), has been subjected to BULLYING and assaults for TO) long;he: since the age of (13), simply trying to return home from school.
    I'm greatful that my brother now understands that he does NOT have to go along in order to be left along, even though these assaults STILL exist at Chester MHC!
    NOTE: The Illinois State Troopers, has DENIED David his right to press charges against the guards who has assaulted him for years!
    Our sister was told (within the last week;first week of January, 2013), that a police would be sent to Chester for David to file a proper police report, but they have NOTa dhered to this desire and promise from the Chester police department.
    We will STILL persue justice for David!
    This Barbara(satin's *****, as she calls herself while she constantly DISrespect I and others)(accomplice of 15th district), has attempted to be a THORN in families lives for years and it MUST be stopped.
    She has instigated people to be hurt because (as she uses for an excuse for her OWN illgotten behaviors), her mother(Katie Harris MOLESTED her/the help of her registered pedophile brother RUFUS MEYERS.
    This community is tired of her using them as an excuse for her and her accomplices ill behaviors towards our children and other family members.
    Everyone has the right to prove that they have learned from their mistakes(as she screamed for her son 'Tyre", while BRAGGING that he's been to jail for attempted murder)but is now dead because and this sick puppy, does NOTHING but try and incourage our youth/adults to start OR continue to live such devious lives.
    These individuals MUST be stopped by our new police commissioner(Mr. McCarthy)!
    I have MUCH belief in his works and I know that people whom anyone like this Barbara(and her GOON accomplices at 15th district, who has within the last 2 months, been exposed of one of their officers on the force for 28 years, having SEX with a person in custody;Barbara bragging about 15th district raping individuals in the basement of the police department), should be CLOSER INVESTIGATED, AND prosecuted for rape is rape!
    There is NO excuse for subjecting a person to such a hanus crime because "my mama did it to I"!
    This person has FOOLED herself into believing that she has power over others and that she can do as she pleases to whomever she likes and it will NOT fly!
    This person, is a PSYCHOPATH!
    No wonder people want to exercise their SECOND AMENDMENT rights!
    I feel that a person should ALWAYS, have the right to protect themselves AND their families!

  • rumi | January 7, 2012 12:33 PMReply

    I feel the same way Don feels......I can't imagine being in President Obama's place during the last several years...even on the lawn that freezing Jan. inaugural morning ( yes I was there freezing my a** to be apart of that moment and I wouldn't have had it any other way ) President Obama was notso happy go lucky , if anyone caught it he was notably somber and really told us , we are in for an uphill battle , and it's not going to happen over night ..he was the only one at that time who I believe knew what battles he was going to have to fight . I don't know , but I am ready for him to take his white gloves off ( hmmm that could mean a few things ) and do like what he did this last week with the appointment that was held up by the GOP , and just do it !!!! I know it took something to pass the Health Care Reform bill ..and countless other things he has done but they get drowned out by the 3 ring circus happening in the GOP land of fools ...all in all . I am waiting for President Obama to bring it to another level . Show me you are not going to be messed with this time around . That the game of trying to make friends across the lines is no longer on the table , that the American people don't want us to be friends they want results ...and they don't care who has the answers , just get the damn thing done...!!

  • Susan | January 7, 2012 11:11 AMReply


  • vdub | January 6, 2012 10:45 PMReply

    oooooo, i so am feeling this! i am working double-triple overtime to get president obama re-elected because i am looking forward with great anticipation to him taking the oath of office, stepping to the mic and going gangsta for the people! on and up!

  • Raisingdastakes | January 6, 2012 10:32 PMReply

    I am reading the comments and honestly when I think of "gangsta" I can think of a few Presidents who not only kept it " gangsta " but left us in a position to just " deal with it".... I think in the 90's we had a crash course in Reaganomics..his war on drugs actually flooded poor neighborhoods.. I think everybody pled the 5 th and walked away until Daddy Bush took office and PARDONED the whole bunch then started his own Bush war over oil that has cost this country billions.. Clinton simply didn't inhale nor did he have sexual relations.. Bush Jr. Simply picked up where Dad left off and oh Jeb helped him steal an when we say " gangsta"" I honestly don't think President has been gangsta enough.. But that's just my opinion.

  • FM | January 5, 2012 6:52 PMReply

    Wow, like Mr. Cheadle I am probably closer to the ra, ra, let's get 'em approach, but BONDGIRL made me simply 'think first'. Very interesting the way you formated your views. The passion in all the comments, lend to the need we all share for change. Bondgirl you really make me want to pontificate with you about 9/11. A topic we know the POTUS can't freely discuss.

  • LittleVictories | January 5, 2012 2:47 AMReply

    I commend, Don Cheadle, for his insight as to where the real problems lies within our society. I use the word society versus government because we are a government of the people. I think it was Abraham Lincoln in the Gettesburg Address that said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand". This cannot be more apparent than watching the dis-fuction of our political leaders as they fight to protect their own interest without regard to the needs of the people. President Obama, has done some amazing things since he has been in office and I will support him in 2012. What I will fight against is the mindset of a government that is so committed to the failure of the President, that they will sacrifice doing what's right to gain 'bragging rights' for fixing a problem that they, themselves, created. It would be much easier for Don Cheadle to just play along with the game, take his paycheck and go home but, as a gangster, a real man, he stands up for what he believes in by saying what's on his mind and for that I say to him, well done.

  • CW | January 4, 2012 10:49 AMReply

    Don I agree with you, and I do still believe you are a supporter. There is nothing wrong with what you said about Wallstreet and replacing them with these kids who just need some guidance. People knew what you meant when you said "gangsta" they just wanna act stupid and keep drama going. You giving your opinion is no different from a parent who tell their child great job on your test today but if you want to score 100%, spend more time practicing and studying. Does that mean you dont love or support or believe in your child? NOOO you just some pointer on doing an even better job. So to all these people who make comments saying you are giving more fuel to the opponents by making these comments. screw them! They are weak minded obviously and dont know how to be "gangsta" when life calls for that. If Obama or anyone in power could show these greedy bastards what its like to pay for your dirty- sneaky- greedy- life taking actions we could possibly see a new approach to the way our economy is handled. My honest view is that the larger picture for the government and I mean bigger than Obama has a say, is the way the economy is is the way they want it. Create the problem and create the solution. The more control they can have on the majority the better for one world order. Thats another topic.

  • CW | January 4, 2012 12:02 PM

    The term for being gangsta is simply another way of knowing how to play a great game of chess. Obama is doing his best now as far as I am to know. And as a citizen of America not only do I have the right to vote an individual in office to represent me I also have the right to say something about his representation. My voice doesn't stop once he is elected in office. That is all :)

  • bondgirl | January 4, 2012 11:39 AM

    Giving his opinion is no different than a parent telling a child tips to score higher on a test, is that what you said? Okay let's see: 1) President Obama is grown. He is married (unlike Don) to his children's mother, so I wouldn't exactly say that Don should be "parenting" him. 2) You are clearly leaving out the fact that just like a schoolchild, Obama depends on others to accomplish that task. So if child has an uncompromising teacher (I've had some), that child will not get the task done when the "parent" may like it to happen. Even with the parent's subjective advice it may require the teacher (aka GOP Congress), who is thwarting the child's attempts at success, to be removed first. I don't believe you nor Don are in a position to say what he is doing isn't "gangsta when life calls for that". Are you in the meetings? I prefer that my President is more Martin than Malcolm because Martin accomplished more in the end for blacks, even when people like you thought he was "weak-minded" for allowing whites to attack him. Malcolm's aggressiveness earned respect from blacks, but in his last days, he came to see that being strong had a truly deeper meaning.

  • Troy | January 3, 2012 11:30 AMReply

    What the he'll is @bond girl talking about?
    Every opportunity I had to speak in public about my support for him, I did and still do. He is the clear choice in my opinion for 2012 and I will again support his re-election but those facts don’t mitigate what I earlier expressed about gangster, they coexist side by side.

    The last time a black actor demanded something on the Iron An set he was replaced.

  • bondgirl | January 4, 2012 9:29 AM

    No Troy (aka Don), they don't coexist side by side. You either support him or you don't. Snide remarks to a national publication is support he can do without, thank you. Save it for pillow talk with your baby's mama, not Jet Magazine where the GOP can snicker and use it against him at their TeaBagger rallies to show his own people can't decide if he's doing what's right. Liberals try and use freedom of speech to shroud their own turncoat behavior and I'm not buying whatever you're selling. As for Terrence "I don't date black women, but marry Asians who call me n*gger" Howard, let's not confuse a common contractual dispute for being gangster. Don has plenty of opportunities to do exactly what he is asking POTUS to do, with Stan Lee or the Showtime producer who didn't hire a black actress to play co-lead. So I'm gonna need him to take the buckshots first before telling someone else to do so.

  • Lady Oh | January 2, 2012 9:24 PMReply

    I love you, Don, for speaking from your heart and your mind. I am with you. More gangster, Mr. Obama.

  • bondgirl | January 2, 2012 7:46 PMReply

    Don, do you see President Obama at the Marvel Studios lot telling you to stop emoting every line sarcastically, leading people to believe that your acting is becoming lazy? I swear, Democrats won't back their own President to save their freaking life. They will throw them under the bus with every election or muscle from the meathead Republicans...they did it to Clinton through Monicagate, and now Obama. They have the backbone of a jellyfish, and don't have the guts themselves to do any of the heavy lifting. Yeah, go home to your posh Santa Monica beach house and let us know how "man of the people" you are. Why don't you be gangster and bum rush Stan Lee into creating a Storm film like they did Wolverine? Good grief. This isn't even close to being about cinema.

  • bondgirl | January 4, 2012 9:42 AM

    Was that a pithy attempt at sarcasm? Try again. Also, will SOMEBODY at Indiewire get the order of comments corrected? Or take a C++ class?

  • J | January 4, 2012 9:16 AM

    Carey, Carey is that you?

  • artbizzy | January 2, 2012 11:01 PM


  • Bemused Obsever | January 2, 2012 5:17 PMReply

    Good for Don Cheadle speaking his mind: he wants a president who is less of a "pussy" when it comes to doing something for the masses not the corporates. He didn't stated this way but I am.

  • Nicole | January 2, 2012 4:03 PMReply

    It bothers me that so many people in America either didn't take reading comprehension or failed the class. It's crazy to me that Don even had to explain himself.

    And give me a was in JET magazine for crying out loud.

  • Jeff O | January 2, 2012 3:18 PMReply

    I've agreed with Don Cheadle more than I've disagreed with him. He has a pretty balanced mind. I also love non-apology apologies!

  • Charles | January 2, 2012 3:14 PMReply

    I agree with Don.

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