Sing Your Song

Posted on: 20 June 2012 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green on the Oscar nominated documentary about Harry Belafonte - 'A revealing, informative and uplifting movie.'

Harry Belafonte meets John F KennedyThe struggles, tragedies and triumphs of singer, actor and social activist Harry Belafonte, a man who has been on the front lines of practically every progressive political battle in modern memory are charted in Susanne Rostock’s Oscar nominated documentary Sing Your Song (released nationwide on June 8).

This celebratory documentary draws on rich archival material and intimate testimonies to reveal the life and legacy of this great entertainer and American icon. Belafonte grew up poverty-ridden in Harlem and Jamaica. After fighting in the Second World War he returned to New York City, where he worked in both the garment centre and as a janitor’s assistant.

For doing repairs in an apartment, Belafonte was given as gratuity a ticket to a production of Home is the Hunter at a community theatre in Harlem – the American Negro Theatre (ANT). The world that the theatre opened up to him put Belafonte, for the first time, face to face with what would be a life in the performing arts. Along the way he became close to some of the most talented and influential people of the latter half of the 20th century – from follow students at his acting class: Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis Sidney Poitier and Walter Matthau – to Eleanor Roosevelt, Bob Dylan, Fidel Castro, John F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela. But it was his intimate relationship with Civil Rights hero Dr. Martin Luther King that was to be the most significant of his long political life.

The film provides a fascinating portrait of a man whose artistic career is indivisible from his determined and ongoing commitment to fighting political and social injustice. Belafonte’s early stage and singing career, inspired by Paul Robeson, as well as by his time living in Jamaica, his experiences touring and performing in a segregated country, and his later and provocative move into Hollywood are all woven into a story that charts a generation of struggle.

Still active in his eighties, Belafonte was blacklisted in the McCarthy era, mobilised celebrities in the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s, helped the fight against apartheid in South Africa, protested against the regimes in Haiti and the war in Iraq, as well as continuing to fight inequalities in the US that ‘we thought we fixed 50 years ago’.

In short then this is a revealing, informative and uplifting movie featuring Belafonte’s best known musical numbers and serving as a fitting tribute to an inspirational man.

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