Environmental Champion Icon Don Cheadle is all about saving the planet

OPINION: Cheadle is an extraordinary actor whose dedication to environmental justice helped him earn theGrio Award.

Don Cheadle thegrio.com
Don Cheadle of "Black Monday" speaks during the Showtime segment of the 2020 Winter TCA Press Tour at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 13, 2020 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Don Cheadle is an extraordinary actor, but at theGrioAwards, he was recognized as an Environmental Champion Icon because he has made combating climate change a critical part of his life. 

Some of us might think that climate change is a white issue, but in his acceptance speech, Cheadle made it clear that climate change is about us. “Black people are the most impacted  [by climate change] in this country and the most at risk,” he said. “68% of us live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant leading to disproportionate rates of cancer and asthma. If the planet warms just two degrees Celsius, a benchmark that we are hurtling toward, Black and brown people are 40% more likely to live in areas where extreme temperatures will cause more deaths. Black Americans lose wealth after climate disasters and then find little to no opportunity to participate in the recovery of that wealth. Need an example? Just look at Katrina. The climate crisis in this country is disproportionately a Black crisis.”

Cheadle is a U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) Goodwill Ambassador. He’s narrated a powerful video essay for UNEP that’s part of the TED Countdown Initiative. It speaks to the threat of climate change and uplifts people who have fought to make us more aware. 

He was a creator and also a host of “The Years of Living Dangerously,” a 2014 documentary about climate change and its impact on the world. It aired on Showtime.

Cheadle is genuinely committed to environmental justice. But he’s the kind of guy who seems to be deeply serious about everything in his life. Cheadle is deep. In any conversation with him, you can feel his gravitas. Sitting there on set with him, I could feel him thinking carefully before speaking. I could feel him weighing his words. He’s the kind of person who makes sure that when he speaks, he has something of importance to say.  

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I think Cheadle’s depth and intelligence are a huge part of his acting success. I cannot think of a movie that Cheadle was in where he was not great. He brings a sense of gravitas and a lifetime of experience onstage to his roles. It’s truly impressive how many great films he’s been an important part of over a very long stretch of time. He was in “Colors” (1988) as a leader of a Crip faction. He was in “Boogie Nights” (1997) as a down-on-his-luck porn actor who stumbles into incredible luck. In “Hotel Rwanda” (2004) he was a heroic hotelier who saved lives. In “Miles Ahead” (2015) he was Miles Davis. 

Through these roles, we see Cheadle’s ability to be the sort of actor who’s a chameleon — one who can become entirely different characters and truly embody them. No matter who he plays, Cheadle always sucks me in. I always believe Cheadle no matter what he’s doing — whether he’s a DEA agent getting played in “Traffic” or the unforgettable Mouse in “Devil In a New Dress.” Mouse was the role that launched him into the elite level of actors; Cheadle shined even though he was working alongside an established Denzel Washington. Rogerebert.com said, “Then-relatively unknown Don Cheadle, whose turn as Easy’s loyal-but-homicidal pal Mouse was one of the great star-making turns of the decade.

For many movie lovers, Cheadle will be always best associated with James Rhodes, aka War Machine, a central figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Cheadle has appeared in eight MCU films so far and is set to star in a future MCU release that focuses on War Machine called “Armor Wars.”

Cheadle has been extraordinarily successful, and he has used his success and the platform he’s been given to promote big causes that will help others. That’s why he was given a well-deserved theGrio Award.

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of Masters of the Game on theGrioTV. He is also the host and creator of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show “Star Stories with Toure” which you can find at TheGrio.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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