Did you know Cornel West was in the Matrix movies? Ex-Harvard prof's cameo explored

Bruno Cooke July 13, 2021
Did you know Cornel West was in the Matrix movies? Ex-Harvard prof's cameo explored
Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images


Philosopher, activist and public intellectual Cornel West last night tweeted out the “candid” letter, addressed to his Harvard Dean, that confirmed his resignation. But, lest those following his tenure fracas are unaware of Cornel West’s relationship to The Matrix, directed by the Wachowskis, here are the details on his involvement – plus, what are his net worth and salary?

When Cornel West entered The Matrix

Besides being an outspoken voice in left-wing politics in the US, Cornel West has made various forays into more mainstream culture and entertainment.

For three years, from 2010 to 2013, he co-hosted a radio program with American talkshow host Tavis Smiley. Smiley and West featured such notable figures as Noam Chomsky and James Earl Jones.

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He also appeared in the two Matrix sequels: The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (both came out in 2003). 

Who does West play in the Matrix movies?

In the Matrix films, Cornel West plays Councillor West, a member of the Zion Council. Approached with a request to appear in the second Matrix instalment, West told the LA Times, he was “flabbergasted”.

“[Lana Wachowski, formerly Larry Wachowski] said [s]he had written a role for me, Councillor West, and [s]he wanted me to play it. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’”

For Cornel West, the meaning of The Matrix “is about learning to hold yourself accountable”, according to a talk he gave at Columbia University in 2004.

“West began by talking about education. At its essence, West feels education needs one critical element. He summed it up with one Greek word: paideia, or, as he describes it, critical consciousness-one of the most important things that educators can instill in their students and themselves.”

What are Cornel West’s net worth and salary?

Per Celebrity Net Worth, Cornel West’s net worth is somewhere in the region of $500,000.

Precise details on his salary are unavailable. However, according to his letter of resignation, his salary had declined in real terms during his last 15 years as an academic.

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“When he arrived at the divinity school four years prior”, writes the Boston Globe, “with a salary he asserted was less than what he received 15 years earlier and with no tenure status, he ‘hoped and prayed’ he could still conclude his academic career with ‘some semblance’ of intellectual rigor and personal respect.”

He asserts that he received the “lowest increase possible every year”.

Where will he go from Harvard?

After a stint at Harvard as a W E B Du Bois Fellow, Cornel West’s first academic appointment was as an assistant professor at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. 

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The seminary’s current president, Rev Dr Serene Jones, announced in March that West would be rejoining the institution’s faculty.

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. West back home to Union where he started his teaching career”, she said. “Dr. West lives and breathes the values that Union aims to instill in all of the future leaders, scholars, ministers, and activists we educate.”

Is he married?

Not currently. Cornel West has had four wives: Hilda Holloman, whom he married in 1977, but later divorced; Ramona Santiago (1981-1986); Elleni Gebre Amlak (1992, later divorced); and most recently Leslie Kotkin, whom he married in 2016 but divorced two years later.

According to The Famous People, West shares a son, Clifton, with Holloman. He also has a daughter, Dilan Zeytun West, born in 2000.

New York Mag wrote in 2012 that West’s daughter lived in Germany. He also has a grandson, who is likely in his mid-20s.

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West’s inner circle, NY Mag continued, “consists of three people: his mother, Irene, who is 80 (his father is deceased); his older brother, Clifton; and the media entrepreneur Tavis Smiley”.

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Bruno Cooke has been a freelance journalist since 2019, primarily with GRV Media. He was an early contributor to The Focus, and has written for HITC, Groundviews and the Sheffield University newspaper – he earned his MA in Global Journalism there in 2021. He’s the Spoken Word Poetry Editor for The Friday Poem, and self-published his debut novel Reveries in 2019, which his mum called both a “fine read” and “excellent Christmas present”. Bruno has lived in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines and likes, among other things: bicycle touring, black and white Japanese films, pub quizzes, fermentation and baklava. In 2023, Bruno will set off with his partner on a round-the-world cycle.